⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Former celebrity stalker turned restraining-ordered-activist Trinity Sommalier is back in Daphne Newblood’s Fifty Shades Freed, directed by Al Capone with a score from Bernie Herrmann.

In the last thrilling installment, Fifty Shades Captive, Sommalier (played by Lise Finch) was left on fiancé Aristotle’s dirigible with his mistress Leanora and her gimp who was revealed to be Sommalier’s former therapist. Freed picks up right where that film left off, in the midtown Manhattan airplane hangar where Aristotle (played by Oliver’s Angina heart sob Brag Winters) was practicing for his upcoming trip to the dentist. Unbeknownst to him, a terrorist splinter cell of radical CPAs are on his trail due to illegal offshore fireworks hordes.

The couple’s love too intense to be denied, it’s only a matter of time before they’re in each other’s arms again. Making passionate love through a haze of bullets or doin’ it down and dirty on the Oriental Express, the film’s nineteen sex scenes push the limits of what can be considered soft core trash. Whether on the run from the Department of Labor or trying to wrap up a multi-billion dollar real estate deal, the couple cannot go more than five minutes of screen time without drooling or grinding on each other. It’s a nonstop sexy limo ride through sexytown.

All of this lust gets really boring really fast, unfortunately, and the loopy script isn’t engaging or satisfying enough, nor are the performances worthy of our time. The film looks terrific though, injecting some much needed life in the rare moments in between coitus, and the music is at least stylish.

There are no ruminations on morality or perversion this time; no guilt over possibly pushing your partner into places they’d otherwise not go; no questioning your breath or your nosehair. This time out it’s all bodice ripping, heavy breathing, toss everything off the desk and do it on the floor. Or do it under the table, or in the bathroom, or on the roof… anywhere but on a couch or a bed. That was so two movies ago.

With a bit less pretense and a lot more awareness, Fifty Shades Freed could have been a riot, a preposterous cab ride through the skankiest streets in the city where we can safely observe the garish wonders. But the wallowing urge to trample in the sleaze only serves to distance the viewer even further from any emotional or even erotic core. The much hyped sex scenes try too hard to be kinky, missing the mark and circling around into parody. I mean, since when is wearing ghostly sheets with cutout eyes a thing?

Personally, the “cable guy fantasy” only works if there’s some role playing that leads to sex: otherwise you’re just doing a literal reenactment of a service visit. Not too sexy IMO, but to each their own.

Even the franchise’s reliable ridiculousness gets to be too much, like when Trinity is speeding down the French Glaciers in her convertible while following Aristotle’s zeppelin as it soars overhead, all to the strains of Bachmaninoff. Or when billionaire Aristotle simply buys Madison Square Garden on the spot (in cash) just so he and Trinity can ice skate alone. Their slo-mo sex scene on the zamboni is one for the ages, though, as is their creative use of hot dog buns. Let’s hope they bought the zamboni too. Does ice stain? Eh, they can always let it melt.

Still, there is preposterosity aplenty like when Trinity finally meets her future inlaws in true Newblood fashion: when they walk in on them having sex! Needless to say more than just pleasantries were exchanged during the handshakes and kisses. The under-the-table-dinner party actually looked fun, more fun than the love scene on the (no doubt scorching hot) bow of their Carribean yacht or the mid-air tryst in a sexed up “bang glider” high above the Indian Ocean.

More over the top moments: the gaudy convent interrogation-cum-confession; the supermarket orgy with Trinity receiving the results of her chlamydia test over the store’s loudspeaker; Aristotle finding his private diary entries posted on HotMoms.com.

Director Capone seems an odd choice for this material, and his eye for detail does appear to take a day off here, but the former opera singer’s touch is everywhere, from Trinity’s flame red hair in the ballroom bondage sequence to the paranoid twitching of the rogue CPAs on their climactic bike rides. He keeps things moving, and for a while there it seemed like he wanted to wrap this up as much as I did, but then the narrative got in the way and slowed things down again.

Finch (Princess Mononoke) and Winters do about as well as anybody could with this level of sophistication, but after three films they both seem to be running out of sexy faces. We’ve seen his “we’re so in love, we’re doin’ it in the rain” face, her “I don’t wanna go back to work, let’s skip lunch and do it in the mensroom” face and their “we just had sex like no one else ever did cause he’s/I’m really rich” faces, and frankly, no matter how many ludicrous ways the filmmakers keep coming up with for these two young lovers to have thoroughly uninvolving intercourse (verbal or otherwise), the characters’ faces, bodies and everything else become less than uninvolving. They become a waste of time.