Under the Cherry Moon

November 28, 2010

The most ridiculous marketing decision in recent memory was made by somebody at Warner Brothers, who had the bright idea that, since Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra and Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon were both aimed at the youth market, the Cobra crowed would respond to a Prince preview trailer.

So the Cherry Moon preview, featuring the primping rock star prancing across the screen with his naked belly button, was attached to all 2,000 or so prints of Cobra. Machismo audiences everywhere have been unanimous in their derision ever since, making uncivilized noises and impolite suggestions wherever Cobra plays.

Prince really didn’t need the trouble. He’s made enough for himself with Under the Cherry Moon, which looks suspiciously like the kind of movie produced when people who don’t know how to make movies are allowed to make movies.

Prince earned this right through the huge, and unexpected, success of Purple Rain a couple of summers ago. That film, inexpensively made, played with Prince’s autobiographical experiences in Minneapolis and included a heaping helping of lively concert footage. It wasn’t much of a movie, but it had a lot of vitality and a slew of magnetic actors.

Anyway, it made a bundle. So when Prince decided his next film would be set in southern France, contain little concert material and be shot in black-and-white, apparently Warners just said, “Okay, Prince baby, you understand these young people. Here’s the money—do what you want.”

This is how disasters happen. After a bit of shooting, Prince dismissed the director, Mary Lambert, over artistic differences. Then he took over direction himself. Little warning bells should have gone off; apparently they didn’t.

Warners previewed the finished film, got bad audience reactions and gave Prince more money to reshoot some material.

The final result is every bit as incoherent as that troubled history would suggest. It’s also, at least in the first half hour or so, much more interesting than you might expect.

The plot is nothing—a fable (a fairy tale, as the film’s “once upon a time” introduction makes explicit) about a gigolo (Prince) who finds true love in the form of an heiress (Kristin Scott Thomas) whom he had originally set out to fleece. The subject matter and moral of the film deliberately evoke the sophisticated Hollywood romances of the 1930s—ergo the black-and-white.

While Prince employs his lewd smirk, and there’s some double entendre banter with his partner in gigolo-hood (the funny Jerome Benton, who played the valet in Purple Rain), there’s a surprisingly soft, traditional moral here, about love and commitment and all that.

In fact, Prince, for all the ire he’s raised from congressional wives about the nasty bits in his songs, seems attracted to touchingly naïve themes in his films. He even touts religion, including a message at the end of the credits that says, “Love God & May U Live 2 See the Dawn.”

Much of Under the Cherry Moon makes about as much sense as that. There’s some tasty atmosphere in the early scenes, perhaps due to cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and production designer Richard Sylbert, both class-A talents.

Then it falls apart. Even the songs, except the great single “Kiss,” aren’t up to snuff, and exists largely as backdrop. I’m afraid this Moon will sink below the horizon even faster than Cobra. Actually, Warner Brothers was right: they deserve to be together.

First published in the Herald, July 5, 1986.

I wish this movie were better; it would’ve been great to see Prince do something so absolutely lunatic and have it come off. However, give the guy some credit for having Kristin Scott Thomas in her first feature. The reference to “congressional wives” was about the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center, which Tipper Gore and a few others had created not long before this review was written (Mrs. Gore had heard the Purple Rain album with her daughter and felt horror, or felt something, anyway.) I don’t really know if Prince “dismissed” Lambert, because she has said she left voluntarily; Terence Stamp also walked off the movie. As for the Cobra connection, I don’t remember that at all.

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