Published: Thursday, July 3, 1986
NERVY PRINCE RETURNS WITH A STYLISTIC SMASH
It takes a lot of nerve to set a picture on the French Riviera and then shoot it in black and white.
And Prince, bless him, has a lot of nerve.
"Under the Cherry Moon," his second film (the first, "Purple Rain," won him an Oscar and grossed more than $80 million), is a stylistic smash.
Its substance leaves something to be desired, true. But fine-looking fun backed by choice music by Prince and the Revolution is quite enough to guarantee most audiences a couple of good hours.
BASICALLY, "Cherry Moon" is the story of a gigolo who falls in love with an heiress and gives it all up for love.
Shot in France around Nice and Cap d'Antibes, some of the world's priciest and most beautiful scenery backgrounds this story of nightclub pianist Christopher Tracy (Prince), his best friend Tricky (Jerome Benton) and a couple of Miami boys in Nice for a little discreet gold-digging.
When Tricky spots a newspaper photo of Mary Sharon (Kristin Scott-Thomas) -- and the story of her 21st birthday inheritance -- he and Christopher crash the party. After that, it's a battle of love, with the couple opposed by Christopher's favorite client (Francesca Annis), Mary's nervous mother and nasty father, and the combined forces of Nice's police and coast guard.
PRINCE IS apparently as hardheaded as filmmaker Barbra Streisand about getting his way. When original director, Mary Lambert, left the picture a few weeks into the shooting, Prince took over her chores. After the film wrapped, unhappy with some of the scenes, Prince returned to Nice and reshot them. He has done respectable work: He finished the picture; he produced an entertainment that, while limited, is as good as much of the stuff cranked out by longtimeprofessionals, and he got to do it the way he wanted.
But, you may ask, can Prince act?
Not yet, at least not on a regular basis. But whenever he's not pouting or vamping a la Valentino, he's infinitely better than he was in "Purple Rain."
The look of the picture is its biggest strength -- contemporary, yes, but with a distinct feel for the '40s. For that, audiences can again thank Prince, who had the good sense to hire cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, a Werner Fassbinder graduate who worked with John Sayles and Martin Scorsese. Ballhaus also filmed Volker Schlondorf's stunning television version of "Death of a Salesman." Backing Ballhaus is production designer Richard Sylbert, the man responsible for the visual style of "Chinatown" and "The Cotton Club."
Kristin Scott-Thomas, the English actress plays the heiress Christopher tames (Prince has not yet entirely outgrown his bad-boy attitude toward women.). She does very nicely in her film debut, so long as she doesn't have to look dreamy and recite Christopher's poetry. And Prince's pal Benton is bearable, albeit slightly less than three-dimensional, as Tricky.
The plot gets embarrassingly over-dramatic near the end -- this isn't supposed to be Shakespeare, for heaven's sake -- but, all things considered, Prince deserves to take a bow. And, no doubt, he will.
UNDER THE CHERRY MOON
Thursday, July 3, 1986
A BATTY PRINCE ON THE RIVIERA
By JOE BALTAKE
The difference between the superstar's first two films is that "Purple Rain" is a psychological/autobiographical glorified rock video starring Prince and the Revolution, while his new one, "Under the Cherry Moon," is a movie starring Prince, period.
Actually, it's several movies - part Antonioni, part Howard Hawks, part Andy Warhol, part whatzit - all jumbled together and seemingly based on the mental landscape of its kinetic, eccentric, self-consciously lascivious star. I've seen "Under the Cherry Moon," I enjoyed it enormously, but I haven't quite figured out what it's supposed to be. Still, I like it.
This overall murkiness, which probably will be exaggerated by the detractors of "Purple Rain," is what gives the film its vulnerable charm, along with the film's moody tug-of-war with itself: Prince's distinctly modernist presence never seems to be quite welcome by his own film's nostalgic Art Deco elements. This unease gives the movie a timelessness, a feeling of being out-of-place with itself, that's hugely affecting.
It took some time for me to catch on, settle back and enjoy it. "Under the Cherry Moon" gets off to a rather creepy start with just about everyone behaving as if he is a vampire in one of those once-trendy Warhol/Paul Morrissey horror collaborations. When bats appear in one scene - in a cabaret, no less - the joke is made clear: This is Prince's portrait of the expatriate as a young zombie. After the bats appear, liberating everyone, the film itself perks up.
It could have been titled "Two Gals in Paris," only in this case, we get two guys - Prince and sidekick Jerome Benton - and they're in Nice, on the Cote d'Azur, not in Paris. The boys, gigolos hoping to sponge off the jet set and get rich themselves, are simply male variations of the characters that Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell played in Hawks' "Gentleman Prefer Blondes."
Prince is Christopher Tracy, a boy who entertains nightly in a piano bar and dares to fall in love with a swell (Kristin Scott-Thomas), much to her parents' chagrin, and he plays the part with a mixture of his usual wild-eyed randiness and a certain '40ish insouciance.
The film's dramatic structure - its simple narrative and simple psychology and sociology - is merely a matter of the girl's parents trying to keep this dapper punk away from their daughter and the kids searching for a place to be alone.
There's no question in my mind that Prince is playing Marilyn Monroe here (at times, he has the same sweet, startled, slightly addled innocence) or that the speedboat escape at the end looks like the final scene from "Some Like it Hot."
I've mentioned a lot of films and filmmakers here and, no, Prince the director is not able to make all of them hold together. But at least, "Under the Cherry Moon" isn't a trendy retread.
Word leaked out a few weeks ago that "Under the Cherry Moon" was something of a stinker. Horsefeathers! It's unique, by far the boldest film of the summer.
Parental guide: Rated PG-13 for its language.
Published: Thursday, July 3, 1986
THIS STAR NEEDN'T BE BORNE UNDERNEATH PRINCE'S NEW CLOTHES, 'CHERRY MOON' IS THE SAME OLD SONG
By GLENN LOVELL,
PRINCE (ne Prince Rogers Nelson) is back! In his own movie! As director, composer and gay-blade star! It's called "Under the Cherry Moon" (now playing)! Quick, someone get the hook and jerk this guy so far off screen he winds up back in his old Minneapolis neighborhood!
Before anyone sends up fireworks announcing the arrival of a young auteur to rival the brash, young Orson Welles, I should add that "Cherry Moon" isn't much of any kind of movie.
Basically, it's a black-and-white travelogue/home movie that should be subtitled: "How I Spent My Free Time Last Year Between Record-Breaking Concert Tours." There are two or three other people top-billed with Prince, but guess who gets all the looming, lip-pursing, Vaseline-coated closeups? It's not French co-star Kristin Scott-Thomas, making her movie debut as a spoiled-brat heiress. The last time I can remember such an outrageous, unmitigated display of narcissism was when Barbra Streisand discovered she could do it all, and crank out celluloid monuments to herself, like "A Star is Born."
In his first screen role since the amateurish but undeniably provocative "Purple Rain," Prince plays an American gigolo/lounge performer camped on the French Riviera, where he hopes to sweet talk the willful Mary (Scott-Thomas) into marriage and a joint bank account. The girl's father (veteran thug Steven Berkoff) has other ideas, and quickly dispatches his three hulking stooges.
Prince's palsy-walsy roommate and partner in fraud is named "Tricky." He's played by Jerome Benton, a member of Prince's backup band, the Revolution, and also a supporting player in "Purple Rain." Benton is an odd combination of street swagger and giddy childishness.
Which is more than can be said for Prince, who, under mascara and various beaded caps, has never been prissier or more androgynous. At times he appears to be doing his impression of Theda Bara as silent-movie vamp. Elsewhere, he can be found playing a silver-tongued Cyrano/Romeo, an undulating Charo, an escapee from a Ken Russell drag show, and a wise-guy expatriate fated to go the way of Bogart in "Casablanca" and Charles Boyer in "Algiers."
And when he's not doing these acts, he's plays one of the boys, presumably to prove he can play one of the boys.
The best -- well, most charming -- scenes appear improvisational afterthoughts. There's a moment when Prince, boasting nerves of steel, is scared out of his wits by bats clinging to the ceiling of a bar. There's also Prince's jive-talk analysis of his girlfriend. Here, the star borrows from the young, constantly exasperated Richard Pryor.
The soft-focus cinematography by Michael Ballhaus and art- deco-ish interiors by Oscar-winning production designer Richard Sylbert give the film a dreamy, Fellini-esque quality. Prince also has fun with purposely blown sound cues. His way of spoofing traditional MGM musicals?
As for the new Prince compositions -- the chart-topping "Kiss," among them -- they're indifferently laid over the action. Prince has only one conventional production number, where he wows the Cote d'Azur swells by making like Gene Kelly atop a grand piano.
If you make it to the bitter end of this less-than-cherry "Moon," stick around a few minutes longer. There's a full-fledged video of Prince's "Mountains" behind the end credits. It's more exciting than anything that goes before.
UNDER THE CHERRY MOON. Directed by Prince; scripted by Becky Johnston. Rated PG-13. (star) 1/2
Copyright 1986, The San Jose Mercury News. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.