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Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, the "world's most eligible billionaire bachelor", and Dakota Johnson as student Anastasia Steele, grapple with bland dialogue and a lack of screen chemistry.

Whippersnapper and the whip

Fifty Shades of Grey is a slapdash, limp cinematic adaptation of EL James's bestseller.
Feb 13, 2015 5:50 AM

50 Shades of Grey is not exactly Twilight for the S&M crowd, but it comes close. Based on the fan fiction-turned-erotic romance novel by EL James about forbidden love, lovers from opposite worlds and a whole lot of kinky goings-on in the bedroom, 50 Shades will provoke nervous blushes in some quarters, hot flushes in others and frenzied rushes to the cinema across the globe - at least in places where it hasn't been banned.

The book has sold more than 100 million copies - mostly among members of the female demographic - while the film, despite translating James's torrid prose into an uneasy blend of sex and romantic slush, won't do anything to stem the tide.

The book and its two sequels met the needs of a market in search of a less bland, more adult version of the Edward Cullen/Bella Swan dynamic and in the process turned readers on to - or at least raised awareness of - a wider range of sexual practices than they would normally have been exposed to. They will know, for example, that BDSM is not the name of a large advertising firm. The explicit scenes (bondage/discipline, sadism/masochism) in the book raised the sexual stakes to new levels and now that the screen version - directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and written by Kelly Marcel - is here, fans will be keen for visual confirmation of sorts.

They are likely to be, um, sorely disappointed because the imagination is a more powerful tool than anything a mere movie can conjure up. Now that Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey have showed up in the flesh, as it were, boundaries that were once limitless have shrunk considerably. Anastasia and actress Dakota Johnson are now one and the same and Christian has morphed into former male model Jamie Dornan.

It's hard to live up to the expectations of 100 million avid fans of course, but the finished cinematic article doesn't help matters much by being less than convincing on almost every front.

Anastasia literally stumbles into Christian's life when she shows up to interview him for her college paper. Apparently, "the world's most eligible billionaire bachelor" is smitten by the shy ingenue, given to showing up later at the hardware store where she works and stocking up on cable ties, masking tape and rope. Hmm, he sure doesn't seem like the do-it-yourself type, she muses.

Later, he rescues her from her drunken self, tucks her into bed and then declares: "I don't do romance - my tastes are very singular." Are they ever. First, he shows Anastasia his "playroom", a place that would do the Marquis de Sade proud, and then asks her to sign a contract that lays down the law according to his rather distinctive sexual preferences - the result of something vaguely sinister that happened in his past.

Before she signs, Anastasia requests what amounts to a test drive, and is introduced - little by little - into Christian's uncompromising world. It would take anyone's breath away but to her credit - and because she is falling deeply in love with the guy - she does her best to acquiesce. It's a difficult initiation and the film ends on what passes off as a cliffhanger, paving the way, of course, for the next two sequels.

Dornan is a wooden (you could say stiff) presence on screen and even though Johnson displays an appealing innocence (much of it with her clothes off), the lack of chemistry between them is palpable.

Add to that the almost laughable dialogue ("If you were mine you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week", he boasts) and you have a very limp product indeed. For a film with a fair share of sex and parlour games, 50 Shades of Grey is dull as dishwater - and that's the biggest sin of all.

Rating: C-