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Fifty Shades Darker

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in a scene from the movie "50 Shades Darker." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.(CNS photo/Universal)

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NEW YORK (CNS) -- To beat or not to beat, that is the question in the sordid sequel "Fifty Shades Darker" (Universal). Sensible people won't care a whip, er, a whit what the answer is.

Extending a franchise whose appeal seems to be that it offers armchair submissives the erotic equivalent of ordering Fra Diavolo sauce in an Italian restaurant, director James Foley pads out his adaptation of E.L. James' novel -- the second in a trilogy, heaven help us -- with nonsexual scenes that range from the boring to the ridiculous. So anyone with a higher interest than mere prurience will be disappointed.

Yearning to revive his relationship with book editor Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who doesn't share his interest in dungeon doings, sadist Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) struggles to control his urges. Whether Mr. Kinky Boots can kick the habit is one of the least compelling questions imaginable, however, and so the mind wanders to other matters.

Is it not pretentious for anyone unrelated to the Romanovs to bear the weighty name Anastasia? Why, in this film's version of the Emerald City, does it only rain when our heroine is depressed? What would Henry James make of E.L.?

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