If hype, 'likes' and advanced ticket sales are any indication of success, box offices around the world will get a boost this weekend with the release of the much anticipated adaptation of author EL James' "mummy porn" phenomenon, Fifty Shades of Grey.

A soft-core, erotic film about a 27 year-old billionaire who attempts to seduce a demure college student with spanks, whips, blindfolds and handcuffs, the synopsis for Fifty Shades of Grey sounds more likely to come from the porn industry than a glossy Hollywood film.

Except, the James' trilogy has sold more than 100 million novels worldwide, so it was only a matter of time before this saucy franchise cashed in on its remarkable success by bringing the S&M-enhanced love story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey to the big screen.

Loyal fans and those curious to see what the fuss is about will discover a film tamer and lighter than the source material - erotic, rather than pornographic, it's not as sexually explicit or psychologically dark. It's to be expected; there's a difference between what you're comfortable reading in privacy at home and what you're comfortable watching with a group of strangers at the local cinema. There's also the sense, with two more films to follow, we're being eased into the more provocative parts of the story.

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While the casting was reportedly fraught for both filmmakers and fans of the novel, the decision to go with lesser known faces was a good one. The lack of screen associations mean Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have the chance to truly own the roles of Ana and Christian, and they both push their characters beyond what could have been just two dimensional clichés.

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson star in Fifty Shades of Grey.
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson star in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith's daughter is surprisingly good as Anastasia. She's warm, funny and as natural as you can be when your boyfriend is asking you to sign a legal contract to be his submissive sexual partner. The narrative of Fifty Shades of Grey is largely just one conversation about the boundaries of their relationship, but Johnson's Anastasia grows throughout, slowly wrestling power from Christian, who at this point in the trilogy remains more of an enigma.

In general, her nicely buffed, square jawed co-star has a harder time of it, but it's not entirely his fault. Screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks) has kept the novel's cringe-worthy dialogue to a minimum, but it's Dornan who gets what does remain, as well as the majority of the unintentionally funny, cheesy scenes. Honestly, the post-coital piano playing has got to stop.

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in the film adaptation of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in the film adaptation of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

Red flags would have gone up if you saw the lack of chemistry between Johnson and Dornan when they presented an award together at the Golden Globes. But while there are moments that don't sizzle as much as they perhaps should, for the most part, when naked, they seem to get on just fine.

Which brings us to the sex. British photographer and indie filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson was a smart choice to direct. She was never going to be allowed, by a controlling EL James and fans, to make this juggernaut anything more than mainstream escapism for a girl's night out, but she does her best to make it about more than just sex. It is, after all, a film about two people opening up and trying to understand each other, in a Mills and Boon for the 21st Century kind of way.

Dakota Johnson in the film adaptation of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
Dakota Johnson in the film adaptation of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

She makes us wait a good 40 minutes before the clothes come off completely, and another 35 minutes before the spanking starts. None of it is quite as shocking as you'd expect. Christian's Red Room of Pain, like the rest of the art direction, is tastefully decorated, and it's amazing how quickly you become accustomed to the nudity, S&M gear, and the sighs and gasps. Some scenes are hot and steamy, and some, frankly, a little dull, but there's nothing to make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. That is, unless you've chosen to go with your mother or on a first date.

There was even a nice feeling of camaraderie at the screening I attended. There was plenty of laughter, and, with an excessive running time of just over two and a half hours, a few yawns too. There was a sense we were in for something a little naughty, and that's what we got; a guilty, if not particularly memorable, pleasure.


Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Running Time: 125 mins
Rating: R18 (Sex scenes & offensive language)

Verdict: An as expected, forgettable, guilty pleasure.

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- nzherald.co.nz