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Movie review: ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ almost so bad that it’s good

February 14, 2017 GMT

I know that “Fifty Shades Darker” isn’t supposed to be good — it’s supposed to be bad, in need of a spanking.

This sequel is almost so bad that it’s good, and if only the filmmakers would submit to making campy comedy of E.L. James’ naughty novels, this just might be quality trash cinema.

The final act seems to head in this direction, going full-on soap opera with near-death experiences and a drink thrown in someone’s face with a fury that Bette Davis would appreciate.

But as too often happens with middle films, there’s not much that happens in this carnal kinkfest besides low-grade titillation and setup for film No. 3.

Note: Fans will want to stay for the end credits to get a peek at “Fifty Shades Freed,” the third and final film arriving for Valentine’s Day 2018, immediately following that Zayn/Taylor Swift hit.

“Darker” is the sequel to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” in which young Anastasia Steele has a meet-cute with a billionaire who’s into bondage and much more, which she experiences firsthand in his “Red Room of Pain.”

In popular culture last weekend, the Super Bowl meant chips and dips. For this Valentine’s weekend, it’s chains and whips.

Between their S&M sexual escapades, girl-next-door-type Anastasia experienced a twist on the Florence Nightingale Effect — Christian wants to tie me up, but my love for him can change him and make him put away the restraints, she figured.

This quest continues in their on-again, off-again relationship, but as far as challenges go, turning the Marquis de Sade into Prince Charming is a silly challenge.

The brooding bad boy is a bit much between his security team, his facial expressions that remind of someone with gas pains, his former lovers and his invasions of her privacy.

This is a dude who learns where his lady is working so he can buy the place. Thanks, rich caveman.

The movie is mostly a wash-rinse-repeat cycle: There is a connection between them; then there is conflict; this is resolved by a trip to the bedroom. Or the shower with all their clothes on.

Or ... oh, you get it.

At one point, the pair literally wash, rinse and repeat, among many scenes aimed at the target audience of “Girls Night Out” parties, date-night older couples and fans of the books who want their visuals brought to life.

I can only imagine their disappointment with other flaccid developments, like the short shrift given to Anastasia’s creepy publishing house boss, or former Christian submissive-turned-stalker Leila, just two elements connected to Christian that threaten Ana’s safety.

My guess is that their roles were more significant in the novel than these cameos can allow.

Having not read the books, I can only imagine that this edition’s masked-ball evening is a steamy affair in the book, but here it’s allotted about five minutes’ time.

Which is about four minutes longer than most of the sexual encounters here.

Dakota Johnson is more talented than she’s allowed to show here, but she still comes out on top among the actors, with her Anastasia injecting some humor that is welcome amid the melodrama.

Most welcome because Jamie Dornan returns with his body that reminds of sculpted marble and his acting style that reminds of a block of wood.

The film is gorgeously crafted, from production design to the use of music, which is key here and employs sexy sizzle, steamy vibes and some downright painful-but-funny lyrics.

“I’m about to blow, and I ain’t talking Samsung,” Nicki Minaj tells us.

Ouch. That hurts so good, like “Fifty Shades Darker” should — but does not.