Under the Cherry Moon (1986) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sensuality, some violence, and language
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Prince, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jerome Benton, Steven Berkoff, Francesca Annis, Alexandra Stewart, Emmanuelle Sallet
Screenplay: Becky Johnston
Review published January 4, 2015
On the heels of Purple Rain superstardom, Prince stars and direct this vanity project that ends up putting himself in a worse light with fans, playing Christopher Tracy, a Miami gigolo and part-time piano player looking to get out of both businesses, contingent on whether he can land beautiful, wealthy heiress Mary Sharon (Thomas, Four Weddings & A Funeral). First he has to compete with his friend Tricky (Benton, Graffiti Bridge) for her attention, and then he has to stay out of the reach of Mary's overprotective and disapproving father (Berkoff, Rambo II), who is willing to do anything to keep her from ending up in the embrace of a major player like Christopher.
Creative differences caused Under the Cherry Moon's original director, Mary Lambert, to walk away, and Prince thought, if it's going to get done right, he'll do it himself. I won't really attack Prince's prowess as a director, as he does show a good eye for composition and camera movement, and, if there's anything about the film that merits praise, it's the lush, black-and-white photography (though it was originally shot in color) combined with eye-popping, music-video inspired editing. Unfortunately, the biggest mistake he makes is in casting himself as the lead performer, because Prince, the actor, has been shown to be strictly limited to playing an enigmatic, androgynous pop musician with an electrifying stage presence. As a two-bit gigolo looking to make it big, he's a disaster, trying to exude charisma and sexiness without any musical performance except as a bistro pianist, he's definitely not romantic leading man material.
Though set in contemporary times, Prince is obviously influenced here by the glamorous films and farces of 1930s Hollywood, with lots of silly 'Abbott & Costello'-esque slapstick, broad melodrama, and supposedly witty, bantering lovers throughout. The Time's Jerome Benton plays the funny sidekick, and he and Prince perform OK together, in an amateurish kind of way, to try to draw out some silly moments. Unfortunately, those moments don't jibe with the rest, especially during the film's overwrought climax and finale, which asks us to not only care about characters that are nothing if not shallow, but with whom we are probably aching to get away from with a hasty turn to the inevitable credit roll.
The film ends with the music video for "Mountains", one of the hit songs of of "Parade", the Prince album that serves as the soundtrack for Under the Cherry Moon. It is then, provided you make it that far, that you'll realize what the film is mostly missing -- Prince, the singer, dancer, music producer, and musician. Sorry, but Prince the novice actor and director is a poor substitute for Prince the performer, and we would have been better served if this film were basically just a number of music videos loosely held together by a narrative, rather than the other way around.
Also of note, Under the Cherry Moon marks the film debut of Kristin Scott Thomas, who has mostly been dismissive of it since making it big with better pursuits. She's definitely at her most fetching, but clearly, her talent or intelligence isn't put to good use in this movie that asks nothing more out of her but to be a shallow, pouty, fickle brat for which to draw out Prince's nearly intolerable Pepe-le-Pew-like persona as the lover & poet of seduction. Steven Berkoff, a last-minute replacement for a disgruntled Terence Stamp, is woefully out of place as the hot-headed father who storms around and sends out minions of disruption, as if he wants to marry his daughter himself.
Under the Cherry Moon is an ambitious project from someone with a vision, so I can't completely disregard it as merely a cash grab to strike while Prince's iron was hot, but it is painfully embarrassing to witness the results. Prince's jazz-funk-pop music is phenomenal, but doesn't really go with the retro vibe film. Maybe it's a good thing that it can be enjoyed on its own. Unless you're an unapologetic Prince devotee, skip this cinematic disaster entirely and just pick up the fantastic soundtrack from the 'Wrecka Stow'.
©2015 Vince Leo