In a shocking abrogation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — at least as it pertains to film critics — a mere 114 days has elapsed between Barbara Białowas and Tomasz Mandes’ two sequels to their 2020 Netflix-busting softcore phenom, “365 Days.” So just a few scant months after “365 Days: This Day” left us in a swirl of Steadicam and a hail of bullets, here’s “The Next 365 Days,” plunging the series’ fans, and its contractually obliged observers, back into the lightly kink-dusted erotic adventures of Laura (Anna-Maria Sieklucka) and Massimo (Michele Morrone), the streaming era’s favorite oversexed, underclad rape-apologist couple. What a time to be alive.
In truth, the shortness of that window is a blessing, given the third film optimistically expects us to remember what happened in the second — beyond there being an evil twin, a blisteringly attractive gardener called Nacho (Simone Sussina) and a comical climactic shootout — and therefore to be mildly taken in by the fake-out beginning. Once again we’re teased with tiny ninny Laura’s possible death, as Massimo, her hulking mafioso kidnapper-husband, grieves at a gravestone obscured by his ludicrously broad shoulders (straining at a jacket which, as ever with Piotr Koncki’s costume design, walks a dangerous line between being tailored to a sculptural tightness, and simply being a bit too small). Meanwhile Olga (Magdalena Lamparska), a pair of designer sunglasses with a person attached, sobs about missing her bestie Laura while trying on a wedding dress: She’s is now engaged to Domenico (Otar Saralidze), Massimo’s consigliere, do keep up.
Nacho, who absconded with Laura, aka “baby girl” (still ick), in episode two and was then revealed to be the scion of another Sicilian gangster clan, attends a post-bloodbath parlay with Massimo. The two alpha-smokeshow rivals glower at each other, the ridges of their bestubbled jaws twitching like fissures on the unstable slopes of Mt. Vesuvius just before it engulfed Pompeii. The prospect of this rumbling feud erupting into violence is a tantalizing one: Given the physical fitness and gorgeousness of all concerned it would be devastating but also extremely hot, rather like Abercrombie declaring war on Fitch.
Sadly, no such conflagration occurs. Instead, late on, in the series’ one truly surprising and cherishable moment, Białowas and Mandes finally give the horned-up audience what it really wants: Nacho and Massimo kissing. Not to suggest that these few seconds of guy-on-guy fantasy action (1:29:10 if you just want to skip straight there) justify the existence of the whole trilogy, but it sure does put all the coy titillations of the movie’s hetero lovemaking in perspective. Except for a weird nightclub/gimp-mask sequence, and this imaginary threesome, the sex scenes this time are tediously vanilla, and nothing holds a candle to episode two’s putting-green orgasm for sheer comedy.
Because, of course, the two musclebound thirst-traps are not mourning Laura at all. Baby girl and, more importantly, baby girl’s libido have recovered from her gunshot wound, and now she’s ready to get back to full-time writhing duties atop her brooding hubs. The only wrinkle is that occasionally, while engaged in one of her curiously anhydrous romps with Massimo, she fantasizes about Nacho. And who can blame her? As fine as Morrone is, he’s only given “smolder” to play, where Sussina gets to flash his dazzling smile while also fixing the camera with a gaze that could crisp up a rosemary and black olive focaccia at twenty paces.
These are the astronomical stakes of “The Next 365 Days”: Should Laura be with Massimo or Nacho? One wants to ball her in the Mediterranean, the other wants “to meditate with her in Bali.” Tomasz Mandes and Mojca Tirš, co-writing with the books’ author Blanka Lipinska, already distanced “This Day” from the original film’s queasy rapiness, but now seem eager to engineer a full 180. Given the ultra-sensitive, ribbed-for-her-pleasure alternative offered by Nacho, also a mafia boss but one who surfs and has unambiguously consensual candlelit beachside sex, Laura is finally working out that maybe the guy who kidnapped and sexually enslaved her and now jealously monitors her every move is not the prince she Stockholmed herself into believing he was. It took three movies, a failing mafia marriage, getting shot, a lost pregnancy, a car crash and the patient, undying affections of an even hotter, even richer guy, but whatever. Go feminism.
It’s not just the plotting that feels bone-tired this time out. The design departments seem underslept too: the outfits are ho-hum, even those at the atelier Laura sometimes remembers she runs. The al fresco dining areas and nightclub scenes during which Olga’s evident full-blown alcoholism is constantly played for klutzy laughs, are entirely interchangeable. And once you’ve seen one dramatic sky skidding off the infinity pool of a modernist villa at dusk, you’ve seen ’em all. Furthermore, we’re used to the oddly inflected, non-native English dialogue (“The plane is to your disposal,” “This white shit replaced me”) but now even the bikini-waxed images from franchise DP Bartek Cielica come across as gauzily inattentive. During one would-be dramatic confrontation between Laura and Massimo, it’s hard not to be distracted by the handprints on the glass rooftop railing between them that glint greasily in the lens flare.
Indeed, the only contributors who don’t appear completely tapped out by the end of “The Next 365 Days” are those with arguably the most reason to be. Composers Patryk Kumór and Dominic Buczkowski-Woytaszek pen a Herculean 25 original soft-rock ballads for the soundtrack, many of which play out for a couple of minutes or more, because that’s how much of this movie takes place in slo-mo montage. Granted, the songs are 100% indistinguishable and all the lyrics appear written by the same algorithm that generates the dialogue: Who knows what to make of a sex scene scored to a gravel-voiced chorus of “Fuck society?” Still, 25!
But just because almost everyone’s exhausted by this crummy cash-cow franchise, doesn’t mean the franchise is exhausted in turn. The hope that “The Next 365 Days” will be the last “365 Days” merely because it’s based on the final book is a slim one, especially given how it ends, on a question left infuriatingly dangling, with only a wailing rawk crescendo and a deranged camera doing infinity loops around the two stars for resolution. “I need more time,” Laura husks repeatedly, to Nacho, to Massimo, to Olga and to the warm wind tousling her hair. Though she’s referring to her deeply uninvolving romantic dilemma, it’s hard not to hear her speaking with the wistful voice of the Netflix accountancy department, as they, and they alone, offer up a prayer that there might be many more “365 Days” to come.