The ’80s was the last great decade for Bad Movies. This is because they appeared in three general tiers. The direct to video market, then in its infancy, coughed up insane gems like Robot Holocaust, R.O.T.O.R. and The Uninvited. Meanwhile, small independent film companies like Cannon could still get films in theaters, resulting in hilarious action fare such as Delta Force, Cobra, Ninja III: The Domination and Death Wish III. For a brief, shining moment, Cannon even tried to move into the (comparatively) big time. One result of this was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Sadly, though, the high end studios, faced with exploding production costs—a trend that continues today—began to hedge their bets by making their films increasingly standardized. This worked, to an extent, in that there were fewer outright artistic fiascoes of the sort commonly produced during the heady days of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Conversely, though, fewer great movies seemed to be produced. Say what you will for (then) big budget fantasy action films like Krull and Dragonslayer, at worst they had some charm to them. Watching modern stuff like Van Helsing is akin to watching a movie literally made by a machine. It’s a film based on the idea that if the audience isn’t shouting, “HELL, YEAH!!” at least once every five minutes, it will slip into a coma.
By the ’90s, the Bad Movie glory days were drawing to a close. Mini-studios like Cannon were being forced out of theaters by increasingly wide releases by the majors, with big movies more and more likely to eat up all the available screens. Ironically, the creation and spread of the multiplex, with venues featuring one or two very large screens being replaced by one sporting dozens of smaller ones, actually saw less diversity in what was offered to theater audiences.
Meanwhile, the home video market stabilized. Seeing that money was indeed to be made, the major studios moved in with increasing force. With this, complete crap was no longer the guaranteed money maker it was in the early days. In this, the home video market resembled the drive-in theater market of the ’50s, when horribly cheap and dumb (although fun and goofy) genre movies, also aimed at teens, ensured small producers an almost guaranteed income. Eventually, though, both markets dried up when the majors moved in and increasingly pushed out the smaller guys. In the case of the drive-in, this took a fair amount of time, extending through the ’70s. Technology and increasing market saavy collapsed the pioneer days of the home video revolution far faster.
Concurrently, though, the major studios were massaging most of their films into a bland paste. The dark power of the ebon god Jabootu waned as an ever greater percentage of movies occupied the dull center of the Cinematic Bell Curve. As with great movies, truly bad movies often required a singular vision at the helm. Films now were starting to be made by committee, and so the Bell Curve flattened.
An occasional classic Bad Movie would still sneak through during the early ’90s. Films such as Fair Game, A Stranger Among Us and Body of Evidence still featured major stars and could be enjoyed in theaters. However, more typically that true Bad Movie classics that arose were examples of the ‘vanity picture.’ These generally were made under conditions where a studio so wanted to make a film with a certain star, that they ceded the tight level of control over projects they usually maintained in order to get the deal signed.
In general, vanity films were movies that the sought after star or director had always wanted to make, but had never been able to marshal support for. In many cases, there proved to be a good reason for this. Sometimes the films just looked bad on paper, and the studios were often right to pass over them. Eventually, though, that star or director would become hot enough that a little whisper would begin: “Hmm, people would go see this guy in anything. How can we lose?”
At this period, you see, of the ’80s and ’90s, the movies were largely star-driven. Now if a studio desperately wants to make a movie, they just generally throw insane amounts of cash around. At times, however, what attracts that certain star or director is the chance to finally put up on screen the movie they had always wanted to make. At that point, all it took was one studio bigwig who wanted badly enough to go to an industry cocktail party that weekend and be able to brag, “Yeah, we just signed [Flavor of the Month] for a big picture.”
Sometimes this worked for everybody, as when Kevin Costner was actually allowed to make a three-hour (too long) Western (dead genre) employing subtitles (!) for much of its length. Disciplined filmmakers, meanwhile, looked for their shot to make these more personal projects, but were careful not to abuse their power. They asked for only as much resources—i.e., money—as they thought they would need, and then worked like hell to make the best picture they could. In that case, you might get a Schindler’s List or a Bird.
Those were people who were more interested in the project as an artistic entity, though, than as a showcase for themselves. Even then, the results obviously depended on whether the filmmakers knew what they were doing. Sometimes the vanity projects that weren’t entirely about a star’s ego (at least directly) turned out horrible as well. Christopher Reeve so wanted to a make a movie that Had Something Important to Say about nuclear weapons that he ignored all the warning signs and unwisely climbed back into his long johns for the aforementioned Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
In the classic sense, however, vanity films meant movies that the filmmakers intended as showcases for themselves. More delightfully, they were afforded the opportunity to make these odes to self, and often extravagantly, on someone else’s dime. (*cough*Hudson Hawk*cough*) In these cases, the pictures were often primarily valentines to their own awesomeness, and it was here that fertile ground was laid for truly, epically bad movies.
Steven Segal cuts out the middle man and deifies himself more than ever, while (sure enough) Having Something Important to Say, in On Deadly Ground. William Shatner hijacks a venerable and expensive franchise to pay homage to his own glory in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. John Travolta makes a nod towards honoring spiritual guru L. Ron Hubbard, yet allows himself free reign to camp it up for his own (and only his own) amusement in Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000.
And then there’s Prince. Sometimes the best time to catch a star is when he’s rising, and thus not quite as powerful as he’ll become later. In 1984, pop star Prince starred in Purple Rain, a fairly acclaimed film based loosely on his own career. The movie had made a decent amount of coin, garnered good reviews, and Prince even picked up an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song Score. The accompanying album was a smash, too, which certainly didn’t hurt, and tons of free publicity was readily available via the then red hot MTV music video channel.
Following this, Prince was in a good spot. He was primarily a musician, so he wasn’t compelled to make another movie as a rising actor would have been. (For example, Jennifer Beals took a couple of years off following the smash hit Flashdance. When she finally made another movie, The Bride, it tanked. Her career never fully recovered.) Nothing gets the studios’ competitive juices flowing like someone playing hard to get. And so Prince was able to ask for, and get, the Moonâ€¦.
We open on a blank, black screen. (Sadly, this copasetic state of affairs is not maintained, and soon actual images are seen.) In the first of several thousand pretentious touches, a cultured, English-accented female Narrator sets the stage. Sucking up to the only audience demographic who might even conceivably pretend this is a good movie, she kicks things off with, “Once up a time in Franceâ€¦” Frankly, though, I’m not sure even the French bit at this one.
As the film proper (in a manner of speaking) begins, we see that it has been shot in black and white*. Meanwhile, while the events are eventually established as taking place in what was then the present day of 1985, stylistically the film appears to be set in a sort of movieland version of the 1930s, the heyday of the glamorous Hollywood black & white romance.[*Actually, per studio demands, Under the Cherry Moon was shot in color. However, Prince had been given artistic control over the film, and despite their objections he stuck to his ‘vision.’ Therefore, the film was released in black and white, as reflected on the DVD and home video versions. One of the music videos included on the DVD contains a sequence from the film, only processed in color.]
To fully understand exactly how appalled I was by this back in the day, you have to consider the state of American cinema at that time. During the ’70s and picking up steam by the early ’80s, black & white films were enjoying a mini-resurgence. They were, however, generally the province of the country’s most celebrated and talented filmmakers.
For the mid-’80s cinephile, black & white film meant Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, Woody Allen’s Manhattan (back when Allen was a director to be reckoned with; and indeed, he made many b&w movies during this period), Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. Needless to say, for first time director Prince to place himself in company like that was jaw-droppingly presumptuous. Having drawn attention to himself in this fashion, he may have been better served by following in fellow neophyte Lynch’s steps, and actually producing a good movie.
In any case, we open in an elegant smoky dive and meet Our Hero, one Christopher Tracy (Prince). He is seated at a piano, presumably a very small one. His attire consists of a sparkly lamÃ¨ matador jacket equipped with Joan Crawford shoulder pads, a poofy pirate shirt/cravat, and a tall headband/scarf apparently made from one of Liberace’s old cummerbunds. This artifact lacks a lid, allowing a Tribble-sized blotch of Prince’s greasy coiled locks to erupt upward. The result suggests what the show Prison Break would be like if the lead character were played by Little Richard’s Hair.
As you can imagine, the viewer is soon nearly choking on the raw clouds of testosterone currently emanating from the TV. This ultra-macho figure, we are unsurprised to learn via the Narrator, is “a bad boy.” She affectionately clucks, “Only one thing mattered to Christopher: money.” Certainly from the evidence before us, scripts and acting didn’t strike him as priorities.
Christopher, we learn, is nominally the bar’s piano player. However, he actually makes his living as a gigolo (!), servicing a variety of women whose sole commonality is that they are extremely wealthy. “Private concertos, kind words and fun is [sic] what he had to offer them,” the Narrator divulges. Then, setting the stage as a tragedy—and boy, you’re getting no argument there, lady—she foreshadows, “Christopher lived for all womenâ€¦but he died for one.” Frankly, when I first saw this movie, the knowledge that I’d get to see Christopher kacked was the only thing that kept me going.
Christopher’s friend and confidant Tricky is nearby, nattily attired in a white tux. Tricky is played by the rather more charismatic Jerome Benton, and it seems likely the film would have worked quite a lot better had he played the lead. Tricky and Christopher apparently operate as a sort of gigolo tag team, targeting their respective clients and then splitting the proceeds.
Tricky espies a likely new client in recent divorcee Mrs. Wellington, an attractive woman of a certain age. She spots Christopher and pauses to flash a finely shaped calf through her stylishly slit skirt. At this Christopher reacts with the sort of campy, girlishly eye-popping over-reaction—he literally bites his knuckle—generally only seen when Robin Williams is riffing a homosexual character.
Oddly, and fatally for the film, Prince will carry on with this manner of ‘acting’ throughout the proceedings. Despite the knowledge that Prince did, in fact, enjoy the favor of many gorgeous women in real life, this does not translate over to the movie. Frankly, it’s difficult to buy into the idea that the film’s parade of luscious females continuously swoon over a fellow who seems, to put it bluntly, to be a flamingly gay midget.
I suppose one might award Prince points for bravely subverting sexual roles and heterodoxic concepts of masculinity and whatnot. Still, this is hindered by the fact that, at least in this film, he comes across as the least likely lady-killer since Liberace in Sincerely Yours. The wizened Woody Allen who nabs beautiful women less than half his age in recent movies like Everyone Says I Love You also comes to mind.
Mrs. Wellington approaches and sits opposite Christopher as he plays the piano. She vamps him in a rather exaggerated fashion—because, you know, he’s Christopher Tracy—sending over heated glances, seductively crossing her legs, slowly removing her gloves, etc. It’s not quite the interrogation scene from Basic Instinct, but it’s not far off.
Meanwhile, the credits unspool, writ in a classic ’30s-esque typeface and with Prince’s name appearing with ominous regularly:
â€¢ “Starring Prince”
â€¢ “Music by Prince & The Revolution”
â€¢ “A FILM By PRINCE”
That last one is in place of the usual “Directed By” Card. Good grief, what a pompous ass.
Tricky, having somehow picked up on Mrs. Wellington’s subtle presenting, drops a napkin in front of Christopher. “She wants U! Ask 4 the moon” Actually, back in the glamorous ’30s of, say, Astaire and Rogers, people generally wrote out words like ‘you’ and ‘for’. But hey, it’s Prince’s fantasy world, and we’ve just been sentenced to observe it.
There follows a purportedly humorous bit where Tricky keeps sending, via waitress, a series of similar napkin messages. Christopher, who is attempting to focus his attentions on Mrs. Wellington, grows increasingly annoyed by these missives. This, sadly, is conveyed with the character’s typical subtlety. That said, he clearly does need Tricky’s advice on wooing this woman, which includes such arcane instructions as “Now give her the EYES!” Sure enough, Christopher bats his eyes and long lashes at their target, and the intended effect is achieved.
Assuming the intended effect was audience nausea.
Christopher and Mrs. Wellington flirt on, via heated glances and suggestive sips of frou frou drinks and the like, although with Christopher being the one who plays the coquette. It’s difficult to communicate in words how little this sequence, and pretty much the rest of the film, works. Prince camps it up like nobody’s business, recalling exaggerated film comedians ranging from Jerry Lewis to Jim Carrey. In the end, though, it’s pretty obvious that we’re to take his irresistibility to women seriously. The idea, one supposes, is that even when acting as outrageously weird as he does here, Prince could still not only have any woman in the joint, but have them pay him for the privilege to boot.
In real life, he’s probably right, at least in the circles he runs around in. Fame is historically been a powerful aphrodisiac, never more so than in present day America. Moreover, it’s entirely possible that Prince does, in person, project some sort of overwhelming sexual charisma.
However, if so, it definitely doesn’t translate to the screen. As noted, in real life the doddering Woody Allen might indeed regularly draw the attention of intelligent, nubile women a third his age. (And I’m not even counting his step-children.) However, guys ‘like’ Woody Allen in real life don’t end up with women ‘like,’ say, Julia Roberts. Allen’s inability to understand that has really crippled his movies lately. Sean Connery he ain’t.
Cary Grant supposedly once told an interviewer, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant; even I want to be Cary Grant.” If the actual Grant failed to measure up to the screen Grant, however, Prince has the opposite problem. He comes across onscreen about as effectively as Droopy Dog would were he playing the same role, and with the same sense of absolute seriousness as to his unconquerable attractiveness to women.
If Christopher Tracy has a (more successful) pop culture analogue, it’s Chris Kattan’s Mango character from Saturday Night Live. And believe me, the idea that Kattan based Mango on Prince’s performance—not to mention wardrobe—in this movie is an entirely credible notion. In fact, and I say this as a person who is generally left completely cold by Kattan’s attempts at comedy; but were he to remake Under The Cherry Moon with Mango in lieu of Prince’s Christopher, the film would not only be more entertaining, but entirely more credible.
In any case, this means that the film is pretty much derailed from its very opening scene. The viewer quickly gleans that raw survival is the best one can hope for by movie’s end. With some movies it just comes down to pulling on your boots and getting ready for a long slog, and this is one of them. Hang on, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Anyway, this—I guess—seduction scene (which as I mark as beginning when Mrs. Wellington sits in the chair) runs quite nearly four solid minutes of screentime. When it finally ends, we cut away and get our first Prince song booming over the soundtrack. This is accompanied by the all too appropriate image of a flock of birds erupting skyward and fleeing the camera. Ah, were only I so lucky. This, in turn, is followed by a helicopter establishing shot revealing the scenic beauty of Nice. Wow, Prince is really breaking new ground as a director.
Then, in another of the film’s pivotal moments, we get our first of many shots showcasing Prince’s trim, girlish ass, which is presently still encased (thankfully) in his skin-tight glitter pants. He’s in the Grotto, the place he hides from the world, which is an actual cave grotto, lightly furnished and suffused with candles. This, no doubt, is where he goes to be alone and read novels about unicorns. At present, however, he’s checking out a photo album.
Back in town, meanwhile, Mrs. Wellington is waking in her richly appointed bedroom, presumably wrecked after a night of the purest sensual delights. She rouses to find a note consisting of a Smiley Face coddling a phone receiver. Lest the meaning of this cunning pictogram prove too opaque, it is also inscribed, “Call me. Christopher”. Nothing like rising one morning to learn that your lover of the previous evening has the mental capacity of a five year-old.
Meanwhile, Christopher leaves another note on the grotto bed, which seems weird, as he’s apparently the only one who goes there. This one features a bad poem, and with all the i’s dotted with little hearts. (!) Then it’s back to Nice. Pulling up in a huge, classic Buick convertible (damn you, Prince!), Christopher parks near an open street market. He is instantly swarmed by a crowd of soccer-playing youngster, whom heâ€¦. Well, he doesn’t exactly tower over them, but he is perhaps half a head taller. In any case, the kids are quite excited, apparently never have seen a flamboyantly gay matador/jockey before.
Christopher dispenses some francs to the kiddies, and then moves on through the market. As a song a tad literally wails about “Christopher Tracy’s Parade,” he struts around and establishes himself as the local cock of the walk. He steals an apple (what a scamp!) and buys flowers for a pretty lady.
Next he enters the building where he keeps his apartment. Pausing to twirl (!) before a multi-segmented wall mirror, he inevitably takes the opportunity to admire himself. “Mirror, mirror, 17-fold; who’s the sexiest dressed in gold?” However, before the mirror can confirm the obvious, a voice is heard. Turning, Christopher sees Tricky and their hot young landlady Katy, who rise from apparent amorous activities they had been conducting behind the check-in desk.
Katy demands the back rent the guys owe. In response, Christopher and Tricky begin stalking towards her with exaggeratedly goofy expression on their faces. She backpedals, demanding “OK, you two, don’t try anything funny!” That’s the kind of thing one generally just says, but here I suspect she means it literally. I’ve seen these two try to be funny, and believe me, Katy’s request is entirely warranted.
Katy continues pretending to be scared. (Or maybe she really is. After all, at any moment Christopher is liable to break out in song.) She even threatens to throw them out if the money isn’t forthcoming. In response, and abetted by some dismally unfunny ‘comedy’ music, the two fall to their knees and assume pleading looks. “Please, madam,” Christopher mugs, “look at these poor innocent faces!” It was at this point that I noted—and unlike Katy, my own horror was definitely unfeigned—there was still an hour and a half of movie left.
When Katy again demands her money, we get a bit that back in the day literally made me want to punch Prince in the face. Suddenly the music gets all stereotypically eerie. Christopher rises to his feet—not that it makes much of a difference—and assumes an expression even blanker than those he normally wears. He pops his eyes wide open, and Tricky entreats, “That’s right, cousin. Give her that Bela Lugosi look!” (!!)
At this, Katy retreats in horror, suggesting that she’s an old movie buff. Sadly, however, she fails to grab a fire axe and avenge this cruel affront to dear old Bela. Given this, one can only wish that Lugosi’s corpse would rise from its grave and deal out some EC Comics-style vengeance on Prince’s benighted head. I mean, right now.
Hell, I’d take some lame, The Hitchhiker-style just desserts, if it came down to it: “Christopher Tracy was a man who played instruments for a living. But he also thought he could play women as easily. However, he eventually learned that sometimes scales aren’t only something played on a piano, and that when these other scales are evened, that sometimes the player can become the played, and thatâ€¦uhm, wait, where was I going with that again?”
However, such audience-pleasing diversions are, sadly, the furthest thing from Prince’s mind. Instead, Christopher pays Katy her rent (from the money he ‘earned’ last night), and then we cut toâ€¦. Man, this film is actually more horrifying than I remembered. OK, here we go. We cut toâ€¦toâ€¦Christopherinthebathtub. There! Whew! He’s wearing a wide-brimmed gaucho hat, and loudly playing with assorted kid’s bath toys. Man, this film is weird. In any case, the water level is dangerously low, if you know what I mean and I think you do. At least the water’s all cloudy with suds.
Tricky is also in the room (!), perusing the newspaper. He asks Christopher if ‘they’—i.e., he and Tricky—are thinking of marrying (!) Mrs. Wellington, who is recently divorced and worth three million dollars. “Ain’t it time we went for the big macaroni?” Tricky inquires. (The ‘big macaroni’?) Christopher, however, is looking “for a bigger brand of macaroni.” I mean, really, what the hell?
Tricky proffers his newspaper, asking Christopher to see if an article there “whets your appetite.” You know, in regards to the, uh, bigger brand of macaroni of which he was just recently speaking. On the front page (slow news day, I guess) is a big picture of the young Mary Sharon, who is today 21 years of age. “Her father owns half the ships on the Mediterranean!” Christopher whistles. Boy, if that’s not the very definition of big macaroni, I don’t know what would be.
“He’s got to be worth a billion, easy!” Christopher agrees. “He kicked a billion asses to get it, too.” I think we all see where this is going, right? In any case, the more pertinent point is that Mary is receiving control of a fifty million dollar trust fund with her majority. And so our ‘plot’ grinds turgidly along.
The phone rings, and Tricky grabs it. It’s Mrs. Wellington. Christopher rises from the tub—off-camera, thankfully—but skids on a bath rug as he runs over. He slips, and ends up being caught up in Tricky’s arms. Their faces are turned towards each other expectantly andâ€¦what the hell kind of movie is that, anyway? Jeez Louise.
Anyway, Christopher grabs the phone and climbs back into the tub. Per Mrs. Wellington’s request, he whispers sweet nothings into her ear. These take the form of another awful poem: “I am nothing without your kiss / to spend each night in your arms, my flower / is this man’s idea of blissâ€¦” His ode grows more pseudo-profound as it goes along, and sadly, I actually think it’s supposed to be kind of cool. I’m not very knowledgeable about Prince’s music, but I hope his song lyrics are better than drivel like that.
Christopher ducks under the water as rose petals are strewn on his head (!), whereupon we wipe to the palatial seaside manor house of the Sharons. This is the setting of Mary’s birthday party, an oversized affair attended by a crowd of the area’s social elite. Several of these are shown to suffer from ‘comical’ Old Fartism. Needless to say, the ‘satire’ regarding these old white people is about as nuanced, not to mention funny, as you’d think. Which is to say, not very.
Lest we had any doubts as to where the plot was going, this scene pretty much seals it. Quite obviously, Mary will be rebelling against the social stagnation represented here (as well as, presumably, the iron grip of her currently absentee Papa), whereupon Christopher will finally show her what Freedom is, blah blah blah.
The party is, needless to say, marked by atrocious excess, such as having elephants wander around the yard. I have to call BS on Prince here, by the way. I’ve sure if we had film of some of the parties he’s thrown over the years, there’d be a certain excess on display in those, too. Then there’s the fact that a lot of the attendees are shown to be *gasp* phonies, as well. Well, I’m sure everyone who’s ever attended a Prince party was completely and utterly authentic, you know, as a person. No phonies around Prince ever, I’m sure.
Just to make sure we ‘get’ the director’s subtly sardonic points, we now meet three particularly petty and phony partygoers (denoted in the credits as “The Jaded Three”), who also do double duty by serving up some clunkily expositional gossip:
Snide Man: “Can you believe Isaac Sharon threw a party long-distance for his daughter?”
Snide Woman: “And didn’t even bother to come!”
Snide Man: “He’s probably too busy bribing another government official!”
Wow, a rich, powerful industrialist, bribing a government official. In Europe! Somebody, get me my inhaler! And throwing a grossly expensive party for his daughter but not being there himself. The guy’s a regular Mussolini.
The party scene goes on at some length, consisting of various brief vignettes which are meant, presumably, to be wickedly satirical. Whatever, dude. In essence, this scene is an analogue to, say, the series of beach gags in The Horror of Party Beach, or those gagfest Hee Haw sketches. To be fair, though, there is a far greater atmosphere of pompousness and self-satisfaction on display here.
Now we meet Mary (Kristin Scott Thomas!!). She quickly establishes her desperate lust for Breaking All the Rules by appearing on a balcony before her guests and dropping her towel, displaying her nakedness for all to see. Well, everyone in the film to see. We don’t get bupkis. “How do you like my birthday suit?!” she cries. (Get it?)
Yawn! In the age of Paris “Who needs panties?” Hilton, I must say, Mary’s exhibitionism hardly seems an extraordinarily bold act of personal rebelliousness. (And don’t they have nude beaches in Nice, anyway?) And if her ‘birthday suit’ jape doesn’t also connote a truly Hilton-esque level of drollery, I don’t know what would. Even so, her actions are here portrayed as being so scandalous that Mary’s motherâ€¦what elseâ€¦swoons away in a faint.
Wrapping the towel back around her, lest she violate the film’s PG rating, Mary begins to mingle with her guests. Then she rushes up to the bandbox, where some rather sedate musicians are playing. “Let’s get the party rocking!” she yells, whereupon she pushes aside the drummer and begins playing in an expert (if utterly unconvincing) manner.
The band joins in, kind of, and the crowd begins chanting “Let it rock, you just can’t stop!” over and over. Whew, it’s Woodstock all over again. Meanwhile, an aged butler shakes his head, because that’s the sort of reaction you’d expect from an old, uptight white guy when he’s confronted with the sort of totally bitchin’ rockin’ going on here.
Mary finishes and receives thunderous applause (!). It’s here that she spots Christopher, and the two exchanges exaggeratedly Significant Glances, complete with matching zoom shots. Needless to say, Mary is struck speechless by the sight of this god-like figure, even if he is four foot tall and dressed in clothes from the Ziggy Stardust Loungewear for Hermaphrodites collection.* After all, what girl isn’t instantly turned on by heavy mascara, false eyelashes, greasy curls and gold medallions over a bared chest? In any case, she goes off to get dressed, and instructs her small posse of chick friends to keep an eye on this mysterious Adonis.[*This particular outfit is a sparkly, skin tight two piece costume. The button-down blouse hangs exceedingly long in the front, and sports oversized hanging sleeves and a deep vee cut showcasing Prince’s prepubescent chest hair. From the rear, it’s backless from the bottom of his shoulder blades to the top of his low-riding pants, with just a suggestion of butt crack. Go ahead and fan yourselves vigorously at the thought. Who wouldn’t?]
That night (?), Mary reemerges in a far fancier outfit, to the accompaniment of song and fireworks and such. The Posse informs her that both Christopher and Tricky have been sucking up to all the women guests. Mary, full of beans, heads over to check things out for herself. Tricky makes the first move on her, and naturally is quickly shot down. I mean, it’s not like he’s the star of this picture.
Mary then makes her way, alone, to a fountain. There she makes to toss away a gift Mrs. Wellington just gave her. Quite a coincidence that this is from a pre-established character, much less that Wellington is the only person at this huge affair who has apparently bothered to give Mary anything.
In any case, the flying box is caught midair by Christopher. So Mary acts all cold and bitchy, and he’s all sassy and cool, and she’s all disconcerted-but-trying-to-hide-it because he’s all authentic and Prince-like and such. However, she does briefly get the upper hand when she invites Christopher to meet her mother, who coincidentally is talking to none other than the ubiquitous Mrs. Wellington. Needless to say, Mrs. Wellington is disturbed to see that Christopher has been sniffing around Mary.
By the way, during the party we’ve occasionally caught sight of two maybe ten year-old kids. The boy keeps bothering the girl, in what appears to be an increasingly sexual fashion. At this juncture, the two youngsters come running up and fall giggling on the ground before our assembled characters. The adults all flash indulgent smiles and laugh as the Harry Potter-ish boy (maybe) gropes and tickles his quarry. I mean, really, what the holy hell?
Tricky comes by and grabs Mary to start up a conga line, which gyrates around to another Prince tune. However, Mary’s posse appears and excitedly hauls her away, explaining that her fiancÃ© Jonathan is calling from New York. Needless to say, the guy’s a schlub, as we can tell when he nerdily starts singing “Happy Birthday” to her.
As a hint to us in the audience, Mary responds to his keening with an exaggeratedly bored, pained and hostile expression. (To be fair, at least this let me know what I looked like the entire time I was watching this movie.) And aside from being a nerd, Jonathan probably also stands over five feet tall and wears men’s clothes and behaves at least somewhat like a heterosexual. So you can see that he’d clearly have no chance against Christopher.
To Mary’s further annoyance, a previously unnoticed Christopher has magically ensconced himself on a nearby sofa, presumably via teleportation. “Billy Eckstine he ain’t, baby,” Christopher sniffs—like you should talk, Prince—about Jonathan’s off-key singing, as he eats from a silver platter of grapes. Of course, Mary is annoyed to find her sorry romantic life exposed before this impish, irresistible Pixie of Love, especially as she is still vainly trying to resist his siren’s call.
She calls Christopher a creep, and orders him from the house. At this Jonathan burbles that he’s in New York, because he’s such a putz that he can’t tell that she’s speaking to somebody else. Boy, that’s some sly, subtle characterization there. Growing increasingly agitated, Mary continues to order Christopher to leave. He responds by crawling towards her on all four and making cat-like growling noises. Meanwhile, we learn that Jonathan—surprise—works for Mary’s father, thus explaining (supposedly) why Mary is going out with such a moron.
Christopher gets right in her face as she hangs up on her beau, and the sexual tension is so thick you can cut it with something you can cut something extremely thin with. Here the two angrily (with barely repressed passion, of course) exchange some witty, Hepburn and Tricky-esque badinage:
Christopher: “I bet he’s your boyfriend!”
Mary: “It may seem strange to a hustler like you, but I happen to go out with people my own age. Special people. And they don’t wear wedding rings, either.”
Christopher: “Then they must be wearing diapers!”
Having delivered this devastating riposte, Christopher spins and exits the room in a fashion perhaps a bit too reminiscent of Sheena Easton in her “Strut, Pout” video. However, before he leaves he gives her some tarot cards, and amidst them she finds an invitation to his performances at the hotel bar.
Outside, Christopher meets Tricky, who is counting a big wad of cash. I’m not sure how he supposedly ‘earned’ that during the party, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. However, they are interrupted when Mary struts after him, and orders some bouncers to eject the two. This leads to what is, sadly, the film’s signature bit of ‘witty’ banter:
Mary, attempting to be all imperious: “Remove this peasant from my party! Take his friend, too. I’m having trouble breathing!”
Christopher, all popping his eyes and sassy and ‘you-go-girl, oh no she did-int’ bitchy [luckily the guards pause hauling him off so as to allow him to fire off a retort]: “Maybe if you took off your chastity belt, you could breathe a little more better!”
At this she’s supposedly all flustered, because it’s supposed to be an awesomely great line. (Wow, an Informed Attribute® Insult!) To make sure we understand that this is so—and really, how would we otherwise?—the assembled onlookers helpfully explode in mirth at his purportedly hilarious jape.
The two are ejected from the house ass over teakettle, in what is easily the film’s most enjoyable moment so far. Outside, Christopher finds Mrs. Wellington waiting alongside her expensive car, as she attempts to assert her increasingly tenuous control over this pony di shetland di amore.
Having gotten his attention, she climbs in the car and reaches over to open the passenger door in invitation. Since it’s still early in the movie, Christopher accedes, and we next see the two arriving at Wellington’s house. She’s beaming a self-satisfied smile, having (at least temporarily) brought Christopher to heel. As they enter, the phone machine picks up. It’s Isaac Sharon, who presumably is coincidentally himself wooing Mrs. Wellington. What are the odds, huh? Needless to say, this provides him with but one extra motive in seeking Christopher’s destruction later in the proceedings.
Christopher goes over to the piano and begins playing comic music and calling out puckish responses to Isaac’s entreaties, as Mrs. Wellington looks on in delight. Isaac proves (he is a bad guy, after all) paranoid on top of everything else. “You aren’t seeing another man, by any chance?” he angrily inquires. Maybe that’s why Mrs. Wellington took on Christopher as a lover. She at least has plausible deniability in terms of him being ‘another man.’
Lest we somehow fail to ‘get’ that Isaac is a dangerous control freak—which basically would require an audience that had never seen a movie before—Mrs. Wellington explains to Christopher, “He likes to collect things, including people.” This established, Wellington and Christopher start making out. Luckily, we cut away rather quickly. I mean, blech!
The next morning, we cut to Mary pacing back and forth in the foyer of her mansion. She’s wearing a dreadful sheer polka dotted dress. Perhaps the costumer was instructed to dress all the characters as poorly as possible, so that Prince’s outfits didn’t look quite as ridiculous. If so, it was a markedly failed stratagem.
Mary is angrily trying out replies to Christopher’s chastity belt crack. Seriously, it was supposed to that good of an insult, one so devastating that she’s still obsessively attempting to craft a comeback the next day. “Maybe if you took off your jockstrap you would be able to breathe better,” she spits, before sighing, “I should have said that!” And who knows, in a universe where the chastity belt line was killer, maybe that’s a real zinger. Anyway, I think I know where the Seinfeld TV show got the inspiration for the ‘jerk store’ episode.
Still, like Poe endlessly massaging “The Raven,” Mary continues her quest for the perfect retort. “Chastity belt?” she says, in an exaggeratedly innocent fashion. “You’re sadly mistaken, sir. I wear a cestus. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s an embroidered girdle originally worn by Venus, and it inspires love. Perhaps you’ve heard of love? I doubt it.” Did the gods ever fashion a girdle that made one so unfunny that listeners wanted to kill themselves? (Hmm, that would explain Whoopi Goldberg.) If so, then screenwriter Becky Johnston must have been wearing it when she wrote this scene.
At this point it’s time to bring Isaac onstage, in the familiar form of ’80s stock heavy Steven Berkoff. As you’d expect, he’s not asked to do more here than trot out his standard icily urbane villain routine. In this film he’s a bit more sympathetic, however, than in movies like Beverly Hills Cop. After all, his main motivation here is to kill Prince.
That evening, Christopher is on duty at the hotel, playing for various ‘comic’ (I think) couples dining there. He’s wearing, of course, another of his James West-by-Queer Eye for the Straight Guy outfits, all exaggerated shoulders and cinched waist and high neck and puffy pirate shirt cuffs. Tricky is also on scene, thankfully wearing a nice suit, for which my eyes were inordinately thankful.
Mary arrives, presumably so that she can deliver her carefully composed comeback. Her body language is exaggeratedly stiff, in a fashion reminiscent of Olive Oyl when she’s angry at Popeye. Ascending the dais, she draws Christopher’s attention, and lets loose:
Mary: “You know, I could breathe a lot easier if the air weren’t so utterly polluted by your presence!”
Christopher: “Oh!” [Smirks, pauses for a sip of wine.] “You’ve been rehearsing that line all night, haven’t you?”
Oh, that darn Christopher. You can’t get the best of that scamp, what? Instead, Mary gives him a message from Mrs. Wellington. He’s to be at her house at 7:00 that evening. Presumably this is a trap, with the idea being that the freshly returned Isaac will be at the house tonight, see Christopher, and murder him in a jealous rage. (Admittedly, that’s a great plan!)
Seeing Mary glaring at Christopher, Tricky comes over and tries his luck. She agrees to dance with him, this being just after she’d turned down a similar invitation from Christopher. However, we in the audience, godlike, peer into her soul. She’s only using Tricky to show up Christopher in a doomed attempt to repress her feeling for the petite playful pianist. Thus, although Tricky uses all his wiles and patented patter on her, she only has eyes for Christopher. And I mean that literally. Lest we fail to comprehend this fact, Prince has indeed instructed Kristin Scott Thomas to keep her eyes glued on himself whenever possible.
After Tricky expresses a hunger for the finer things in life, Mary invites him to dinner at an exclusive restaurant the following evening. Casually, she mentions he should bring Christopher along, too. Ah, a sly one, that Mary. When the script calls for it, anyway.
Christopher cuts in and escorts Mary outside to the romantic seaside balcony. This allows us a better look at his current outfit, andâ€¦wow. That’s all I can say. As well, we learn that the sole reason Prince comes close to matching his leading lady’s height is that he’s wearing towering platform shoes.
They begin to dance, and we get a very bad ‘arty’ moment, complete with overlaid imagery and slow-mo, as was indicative of the music videos of the time. Sadly, though, the flying choir boys with glowing demon eyes from Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” video fail to make an appearance. Damn, that might almost have redeemed this whole movie.
Christopher asks why Mrs. Wellington would give Mary a message to pass on to him (well, yeah), and then further inquires as to what Mrs. Wellington said about him. When Mary invites him to guess, he says that she probably described him to be “an angel, and her heart flies when she’s in my arms.” Gaak. “It must be easy to float with a head as swelled as yours,” Mary responds, which doesn’t really address what he said, but which is certainly accurate.
They continue to dance, with Prince tossing in a Stevie Nicks twirl every now and again, and trade exceedingly lame barbs. In the end, the scene lasts not too much longer than the dance marathon in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and is only marginally more grueling to watch. See, she wants to give him her heart, but is suspicious that he’s only after her money, while he’s realizing blah, blah, blah. Anyhoo, 7:00 arrives, and Christopher departs to keep his presumably ersatz appointment with Mrs. Wellington.
Christopher arrives at Mrs. Wellington’s house, singing “I’m in the Mood for Love.” Only, instead of ‘love,’ he sings ‘drawers.’ Why? Shut up, you! Who are you to ask Prince why he does anything?! The guy is a frickin’ genius! Anyway, he sees a Rolls Royce in the driveway, presumably Isaac’s, and horrible comedy music starts playing. This is helpful, as it warns us that further ‘hilarity’ is about to perpetrated, so that we can close our eyes or get a vomit bag ready or whatever.
However, it turns out I was wrong. Nothing could prepare me for the horror of seeing Christopher, in his clown pajamas—and I mean that literally, all they need is the huge fuzzy buttons down the front—open the door of this beautiful Rolls and climb into the driver’s seat. I can only hope that immediately after they filmed this, they took the car away and melted into slag. Otherwise, there is sure to be a Christine-thing happening here. I mean, that car has been tainted, man. Tainted.
As he futzes around with the steering wheel and such—I felt so cold watching thisâ€¦so very, very cold—he dislodges what appears to be Isaac’s passport (?). This naturally contains Isaac’s picture, and thus lets the audience know whose car this is. (Well, duh.) Christopher figures out that Mary set him up because she doesn’t like her dad sleeping with Mrs. Wellingtonâ€¦er, what now?
Anyway, Christopher rises to the occasion—as much as he can anyway—and starts yelling at the house. “Stroke it a couple of times for me, cousin,” he screams. “Make sure you put a pillow up her ass. She like that!” Class, that guy. Always class. Still, in case you’d somehow think this isn’t funny, don’t worry, the comedy music is still playing, so it must be. Having said his piece, he drives off, as an irate Isaac comes stumbling out of the house, frantically stuffing his shirt back into his pants.
Cut to the boys’ bathroom, as they primp for that night’s fancy dinner with Mary. This involves, of course, exposing at least portions of their respective chests for our presumed edification. (Wisely, Prince goes the open shirt route and thus wisely avoids competing with Benton’s rather manlier torso.) The two discuss Mary, and it’s becomes obvious that Christopher’s designs on her aren’t quite as mercenary as they once were.
Meanwhile, back at Chez Sharon, Isaac is brushing Mary’s hair (!) as they talk. Meanwhile, no doubt due to Christopher’s influence, Mary is starting to show some independence. However, as this revolves around whether she’s old enough to take out her father’s yacht by herself, I’m not entirely convinced that ‘independence’ is the right word. Even so, Isaac is inevitably nonplussed by his daughter’s newly revealed willfulness.
Back to the guys, as we arrive in time to hear Christopher opine that Mary is still probably a virgin. Class, that guy. Always class. “You know, I think she’s afraid of men,” he theorizes, which would explain why she’s so attracted to him. Like, if you were afraid of skeletons, maybe you’d carry around a really small one, until you got used to them.
Back to the Sharons. As an obvious plot point, it turns out that Isaac is holding the terms of the trust over Mary’s head. (Er, I thought she got control of this with her recent 21st birthday. Apparently not.) This is necessary, so that when Christopher finally decides he actually loves her, he can prove it to us by telling Isaac to stick his money where the sun don’t shine. Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to blow that for you.
Anyway, it turns out that for her to get the trust, she has to wed Jonathan. Kind of a nakedly clumsy plot contrivance, but there you go. Even so, Mary’s statement that she wants the money so that “I can lead my own life” again doesn’t seem well designed to engage viewer sympathy. You want to lead your own life, woman? Get your ass out there and make your own damn money. And buy your own damn boat while you’re at it.
Meanwhile, Christopher and Tricky—who still views Mary primarily as a meal ticket—are starting to feud over her. Here we learn that they are half brothers, albeit, as Christopher points out, the darker Tricky is “chocolate” while he himself is “butterscotch.” Then they vamp at each other in one of the several portions of the film that has the average viewer wondering what the hell is going on, before they reveal that they were just kidding.
The guys are next seen outside the restaurant, attired in perfectly tailored black tuxedos. They sure have a lot of clothes, those two. Still, I can actually look at Christopher right now and not feel like my eyes are melting out of my head. Meanwhile, Tricky brags—if I’m interpreting him correctly—that he’s going to nail Mary that evening, which gives Christopher “an idea.” (I hope it’s not for another film.) He sends Tricky off somewhere.
Mary arrives wearing some sort of jeweled hairnet / skullcap, and approaches Christopher. She remarks on his attire, and he admits “I hate these clothes.” She replies that they are a vast improvement over his usual duds, and lady, I’m with you. We cut to a bit later, as they having an after dinner cordial, and are all apparently a bit spiffed. Christopher begins shouting about her “small, sheltered world,” which is actually part of his plan to induce her to join them for a night on the seamy side of town.
To prove that she hasn’t led much of a life, Christopher loudly demands a pen from the waiter—it’s cool that he’s wrecking everyone else’s night out, because they’re all stuffy white people, and he’s all authentic and whatnot—and writes “wrecka stow” on a napkin. He eventually goads Mary into reading this aloud, and he and Tricky laugh like hyenas when she fails to ‘get’ it. See, it’s meant to be a phonetic translation of how a ‘normal’ person would say ‘record store.’ (Yeah, take that, diction freaks!) This whole bit is so hilarious that the scene is dragged out for several minutes so that it can be enjoyed to the very last nerve.
Oops. Very last drop, I mean. Yes, drop.
When the meaning of it all finally dawns on her, Mary just sits there looking humiliated (??), while the guys slaps the table and laugh manically and fall to the floor and stuff. It’s rather like the scene in The Blue Brothers where Jake and Elwood are purposely making nuisances of themselves in a fancy restaurant. Except that in that movie the scene was funny. And entertaining. Other than that, though….
Speaking of comedy that doesn’t work, here the dance floor is opened, as the orchestra plays *gasp, choke* tasteful chamber music for their patrons to waltz to. At this, Tricky reaches under the table and pulls out a literally suitcase sized boom box (!). I mean, how the hell would they have gotten that into the restaurant? What is this, a Monkees episode of a sudden?
The guys drag this over to the dance area, as Mary looks on with excitement. Yeah, wow, they’re really giving it to the Man, or whatever the point of all this is. And so, after nearly three-quarters of an hour and for the first time in the movie, Prince actually performs a song number. Which, when you think about it, couldn’t have helped at the box office. Prince fans would have expected far more music, and thus been disappointed. Meanwhile, non-fans wouldn’t exactly have been attracted by the critical panning the film quickly earned.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not really a Prince fan. This isn’t meant as a jibe, as I’m not much of a music person in general. Even so, and despite such caveats, this is easily the best part of the movie so far. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy Prince as a performer, this is still what he does for a living. As such, it’s a welcome respite from his attempts at things he’s not so proficient at, like acting.
In any case, the rich honky audience totally digs his tune, and starts grooving away as much as their funk-deficient genes will allow. Meanwhile, the frazzled and, of course, exaggeratedly stuffy Maitre d’ tries to talk to Mary about her hooligan friends. This makes no sense. All the customers are digging the show, and if they are happy, one doubts the management would be overly concerned.
However, Isaac and some bodyguards soon show up, in response to a phone alert by the Maitre d’. He is shocked, naturally, to see his daughter dancing with a black troublemaker, and an extremely short and effete one at that. The toughs break up the song, to a chorus of boos from the assembled partiers. And no wonder, because now that the music has stopped, that means the ‘movie’ has resumed. You bastards!!
Isaac, who because he is played by Steven Berkoff looks like a perennially pissed off Terrance Stamp—as does Terrance Stamp*, actually—quietly bids Mary to return home with him. And, since there’s still (dammit) nearly an hour of movie yet, she complies. Christopher, unsurprisingly, is not at all down with that. Meanwhile, the assembled crowd, presumably made up of the town’s richest elements since the venue is supposed to be so chi-chi, boo along with him as Mary tucks tail and leaves.[*I later learned that Stamp had himself been offered the role of Isaac. Wisely he turned it down, although it wouldn’t have helped much is he hadn’t.]
That night, Mary lies in her posh bedroom and turns on her transparent, neon-lit radio. (Which, to be fair, matches her transparent, neon-lit telephone.) I don’t want to shock the heck out of you, but she immediately picks up a Prince song. Then it’s back to the guys’ apartment, where they both are, naturally, reclining on their beds and shirtless. They banter a bit, and then Mary calls. The phone call is way drawn out and filled with long pauses, which is good. In this film, actors not saying anything beats actors saying stuff by a country mile. Anyway, she implies that she’d do the deed with him if he were with her right then, and then she hangs up.
According to the Dead Obvious Comedy Computer 3000â„¢, the next shot should be of Tricky and Christopher leaning a ladder up outside her bedroom wall. And so it comes to pass. “Dumb ass, you don’t even know if it’s the right window!” an irate Tricky hisses, setting up the next obvious punch line. Christopher climbs up—and remember, it’s a lot farther for him than for normal sized folks—and heads into a darkened room, calling out, “Pizza man!” Because, you see, it’s funny.
OK, you don’t see.
Anyway, the room is so dark that we only see his and her silhouettes. He advances to her bed and makes his move. When he says he’ll do all the work, she whispers that he’ll have to, as she’s taken some sleeping pills. Meanwhile—and oh, boy, the hilarity—a still irate Tricky, left standing guard in the garden, looks up and sees Mary brushing her hair in another window entirely. He assumes a ‘comic’ panicked expression, andâ€¦.
Oh, just a second. Ah. The DVD timer just indicated that we’ve hit the movie’s exact halfway point. Whew, we’ve still a long way to go, but it’s all downhill from here. In more ways than one, actually.
Tricky begins to sneak off without alerting Christopher, but stops when he sees a couple of guards nearby. Rather than use their prearranged signal, however, he climbs upstairs himself and tosses something into the room. This interrupts Christopher just as (hopefully) things were about to commence, and alerts him that he’s in Mary’s mom’s room. See, she’s all doped up from the sleeping pills, and thinks it’s her husband paying a rare call upon her affections. Anyway, the hilarity! Our Heroes climb down to the ground and run off in a fashion suggesting a Benny Hill routine, were he somehow completely unfunny.
Later, and thankfully the room is still dark, Isaac goes to bed and finds his wife all revved up. Because, you see, he’s been neglecting her in favor of the Widow Wellington. In any case, it’s hilarious, because Isaac ends up having sex with his wife! Oh, my sides.
The next morning, an unaware Mary arrives at the guys’ apartment. (Whew! More bare-chested Prince! Man, you just can’t get enough! Or he can’t. Something like that.) To make up for missing her birthday, Isaac has literally given her a bag full of cash, and she’s here so that Christopher and Tricky can help her spend it.
Cue, that’s right, a wacky spending montage. Most everything they buy is some sort of garish horror. For instance, you should see this bejeweled leather jacket Christopher ends up with. Or rather, no you shouldn’t. Again, though, even a bad montage is less painful to sit through than stuff involving the ‘plot.’ Hell, there’s even another cameo appearance by the Jaded Three. So beloved, those characters.
Now that Mary’s got his juices flowing from buying him all this crap (and even better, all of it super-expensive and in egregiously bad taste), he invites her to meet with him that night. You know, for the sex. Maybe he can entertain her with an amusing anecdote about how he nearly (I hope) boffed her mother.
They split up, and the plot turgidly advances. The guys are strolling through a scenic city street, Christopher in a midriff-bearing shirt. He informs Tricky that he’s thinking of leaving “the business.” Because, you know, the Love and such. Meanwhile, we see some of Isaac’s henchmen spying on Our Heroes. Christopher is all “Love is more than physical, and it’s eternal, and yada yada,” while the bad guys are noted with sinister music stings so that we comprehend that they are, uh, bad guys.
Cut to the guys eating lunch. Tricky expresses concern that if they don’t get out of town, Isaac will commit mayhem upon them. A contemptuous Christopher asks if he’s afraid of dying, and Tricky is all ‘hell, yeah!’ “Well, I ain’t afraid of shit!” Christopher sneers in response. And having seen this movie, I have to say, the man is not lying.
I, however, am very afraidâ€¦that something ‘funny’ will occur soon. And sure enough, Tricky spots some bats in the rafters (?!), and the entire luncheon crowd runs screaming from the joint. This is actually a plot point, though, because in the panic they accidentally shake the fellows following them.
Back at the apartment, they get dressed for the evening, with Prince donning his most horrible shirt yet. I can’t even describe it, except to say that I think seeing it was what made that one guy’s face melt off at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then we cut to the racetrack where Christopher told Mary to meet him, apparently because it’s such a scenic locale to shoot a film.
Evening arrives, and eventually so does Our Hero. He parks and begins jiving away to (what else?) a Prince song playing on the radio. Then Mary shows up in the sports car he ‘bought’ her during their spending spree, and they race around the track. Luckily, even this fails to rouse any sign of a security staff. After a bit of the race, we cut to the two silhouetted against the car headlights and ‘passionately’ making out. Then we cut to a full moon, which I guess might be ‘cherry.’ Anyway, they’re under it, so there you go.
This is followed the clichÃ© ‘she runs, he runs after her’ bit, and the whole thing is so overwrought that you can’t tell if it’s supposed to be intentionally satiric. If not, Prince is a pretty bad director. And if soâ€¦Prince is a pretty bad director. Then we ‘finally’ get to the part where they have sex, a scene that begins with Prince—and I’m not kidding—fondling his own body. All I can say, in the end, is What the Hell?
Thankfully, Prince doesn’t feel the need to drag this particular scene out. (In fact, the film is oddly squeamish in the romantic sequences. This is sort of strange, actually, given the strong sexual content of a lot of his music.) Anyway, we cut to them sitting in his Buick by a lake. She’s laughing hysterically. I should note that this is actually what we see, and not just my own idea of the normal reaction to a woman having just had sex with Prince.
For no apparent reason, Christopher begins trying to pick a fight with her here, and soon they are arguing. After goading her further, for what purpose I couldn’t figure out, he saunters over to a nearby phone booth. His intention is to piss off Isaac by informing him that he’s nailed his daughter. Class, that guy. Always class. Sure enough, he catches Isaac dozing in Mrs. Wellington’s boudoir. He disguises his voice—a very little—and somehow Mrs. Wellington fails to recognize him, and per his request wakes Isaac up.
I’m not sure why we’re supposed to champion Christopher, when he’s at least as big a prick as Isaac. I guess it’s because of the authenticity thing. In any case, Our Hero identifies himself and explains that he just did Mary, and that further he intends to marry her. I mean, he hasn’t mentioned this to her yet, but, you know, it’s True Love. I myself would probably discuss marriage with my intended bride first, rather than just presenting the idea as a fait accompli with the intention of driving my prospective father-in-law into a homicidal fugue. But then, I’m not very authentic at all.
Mary appears and disengages the call. However, she’s not mad that her lover is planning to use her as a prop to get back at arrogant rich white people, so much as concerned that her dad will have Christopher killed. (Oh, yeah. That.) “Does he love you?” Christopher asks. She says he does. “Then I can destroy him,” Christopher replies, and starts again with the making out. Is this whole dynamic as sick as I think it is? Because that’s pretty sick.
They end up screwingâ€¦I’m sorry, ‘making love’—in the phone booth, in a particularly icky scene. Hot, I mean. No, icky. First he makes her kind of beg for it, though. It’s the feel good romantic movie of the year!
Mary arrives home the next morning, still wearing the same dress. This naturally distresses Isaac, and the two have it out. Although Isaac is meant to be this colossal prick, I can’t say I disagree with him regarding Christopher. In any case, in order to make Christopher look good (although I doubt it ever crossed Prince’s mind that the viewer might not be behind him every step of the way), Isaac must now be an even bigger dick.
Therefore, Isaac plays the, “Don’t you realize what your fiancÃ©e is worth!” card, and goes on about the huge fortune the families’ combined wealth would represent. Of course, this sort of thing can never trump True Love. Which, against all the evidence of any of our senses, is what we supposedly have here. Mary, finally realizing how she’s nothing but a pawn to her father (much like she is to Christopherâ€¦oops!), storms away.
We cut to Christopher, returning to his apartment. He’s wearing a belted floppy something that’s either a bathrobe or an overcoat, but which in any case is about five sizes too big for him. All I can say is, if he’s going for a Bogart thing, then he’s waaaaaaay off. Meanwhile, Tricky is all pissy, because Christopher told him he and Mary would meet up with him the previous evening. He’s apparently jealous of Christopher and Mary getting it on. However, I’m not sure who he’s actually supposed to be jealous of, and furthermore that might be entirely intentional.
Anyway, they have a spat, either of the Lovers’ or the “Dude, you’re breaking up the band!” variety, and Christopher storms off as Tricky yells about taking Mary away from him. However, Mary is downstairs waiting for Our Hero. She hands him a flower, and they kiss, and the doors open of their own accords to a blinding white dreamland. (Wow!)
They head toward Christopher’s grotto hideaway. As he takes her there, he tries to make her say her father is a bad man, while refusing to himself to say that he loves her. (“Define love,” he evades.) Seriously, this film is really about some sick thing between Christopher and Isaac, isn’t it? Mary is like a bone two growling dogs are tugging at.
Still, as long as she’s around, he might was well have sex with her. And they do it to candle light, which is movies always means “This is a beautiful act of love,” and never, “Aiieee, our gyrations knocked the candles over and they’ve set the bed on fire and now we’re going to be horribly immolated!!”
Later, Christopher takes Mary to the hotel. Er, is he supposedly showing up for work? Because he’s still wearing the pajamas and robe he left home in. Anyway, as they arrive, Isaac’s goons make their presence known. (What are they doing there?) Christopher reacts by fervidly making out with Mary in front of them. Again, this seems more about them than about her. It finally struck me that this movie is perhaps meant to be a portrayal of outlaw passion, like Breathless, although this is more like ‘Senseless.’ Not to mention ‘Tasteless.’ And ‘Entertainless.’ Now, you’re probably saying ‘entertainless’ isn’t a word. You’re wrong, though. It just wasn’t a word before Prince made this movie.
The face-sucking is interrupted, not by the thugs, but by a still drunken and irate Tricky (huh?!), who is dressed in his black tux and wearing a big cowboy hat. (??) Tracy tosses in his face Christopher’s words from earlier in the movie, about how he would consider marrying Mary for her millions, in his face. Of course, we know that it ain’t like that anymore. Mary, however, who no doubt is bewildered by the mystery of how she could have snagged this very Platonic Ideal of Manhood, takes the remarks to heart. Embittered and angry, she drives off with her father’s men.
There’s a lot of running and driving and storming off in this picture.
Discordant music plays as everything falls apart for Christopher. He heads back to the hotel bar. Meanwhile, Katy yells at Tricky for being a massive jerk. “I don’t need friends,” Tricky retorts. “I’m my own man. Just like Liberace.” I have no idea what that even means.
We go back to Christopher, standing on the seaside restaurant balcony and getting plastered. One of his old, er, clients approaches him, and is filmed with a distorted lens, so that we ‘get’ how horrible his old life suddenly is to him now. (Wow!) He runs off—see previous note—in horror, like this is some particularly bad Twilight Zone episode or something. (“Presented for your disapprovalâ€¦”) At this his former client cackles like a witch. Whatever, dude.
Meanwhile, and hilariously, Kristin Scott Thomas now gets her Oscar Clip Momentâ„¢.* She tells her mother to have the family plane made ready for a trip to New York, and then goes off on her. “You’ve painted a picture of a perfect world,” Mary screams, “and you’ve framed it with hypocrisy, stubbornness and lies.” Wow! Take that, Paddy Chayefsky![*Actually, Ms. Scott Thomas was later nominated for a Best Actress Oscar® for her role in The English Patient. However, in that film—as I understand, since I’ve never seen it *POSSIBLY INACCURATE SPOILER ALERT*–she only had to pretend to fall in love with a Nazi mummy. Here she has to pretend to fall in love with Prince. Obviously this is the movie she should have been honored for.]
You know, I just can’t seem to engage my sympathy muscles when Mary’s basic complaint seems to be, “You guys suck, you won’t give me millions of dollars unless I marry who you want.” That’s not exactly noble on their part, but it’s not like they are morally obligated to give her any money at all. Anyway, by the end of the scene, she’s whispering stuff like, “Mother, I am your painting. I hurt real bad.” Just like the scripting, then.
Christopher, wearing his huge Floppy Coat (and having taken the time to apply a heavy coat of mascara under his eyes), goes to see Mrs. Wellington. She offers him a drink, but he turns it aside. BECAUSE, YOU SEE, HE’S CHANGED AND IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT FUN ANYMORE. She hands him an envelope. It’s a bribe from Isaac, $100,000, with the stipulation that he leave Mary alone in the future. By the way, the date on the check is pretty much our first solid proof that the film was meant to take place in the modern day.
Christopher writes a note on the check and hands it back, saying she should return it to Isaac. “Fa you?” she reads, in confusion. (What is she, a moron?) “Tell him it’s Chinese,” he japes (?), and takes off. However, Mrs. Wellington, either because she loves him; or because she’s decided she can’t stand in the way of True Love; or maybe because there’s only twenty minutes of movie left and it’s time to get things moving, stops him and tells him that Mary is leaving for New York at midnight. Wow, whoever wrote this actually read a book on screenplays, for which rule number #12 is, “Always include a Time Element.”
Christopher speeds to the airport, occasionally mysteriously backlit by a big honking klieg light, and arrives just in the nick of time. In the end he must drive through a flimsy guard rail, during which he acts like it’s some dangerous act, despite the fact that his car constitutes about three tons of speeding steel. Then it hit me that he was meeting Mary in a black and white movie at a small airport, and that maybe this was meant to reference Casablanca, and I threw up in my mouth a little.
He asks to talk with her. She accedes, and her mom faints. (!!) Again. Actually, now that I think about it, if my only daughter—or my hundredth daughter, for that matter—ran away with Prince, I’d probably faint too. If anything, these are the worst scenes (and the funniest, of course) in the movie, because it’s finally time for Prince to actually attempt to act, and he can’t remotely pull it off.
Mary comes and sits with him in his car (yeah, good idea). He then declares that he needs more than five minutes, he needs a lifetime, and up and drives off with her. This, I’m pretty sure, is just out and out kidnapping. But it’s OK, because it’s True Love. That’s why you don’t need stalker laws and stuff like that.
During this the song “Anotherloverholenyohead” is heard. The central lyric of this ditty is, per the title, “u need another lover like u need a hole in yo head.” I must admit, that sums up her current situation perfectly, although you wouldn’t think they’d be so open in admitting it. Again, though, the song is truncated and plays under the action. One wonders what Prince thought he was going by ignoring the music so much.
Isaac shows up, and castigates the local police inspector, who’s in his pocket. Meanwhile, Christopher pulls over alongside a dock. “Christopher, I don’t know you anymore,” Mary asserts. (Lucky you.) In response to her pouting, he climbs into the back seat, ducks down out of sight—not really that impressive of a feat, in his case—and reemerges wearing big black sunglasses.
This magical tableau in place, he stares stonily forward as she entreats him to speak. In response, heâ€¦and there’s really no other way to say itâ€¦gives her the silent treatment. While this is certainly a better state of affairs than when he wasn’t giving her the silent treatment, it again is somewhat weird to watch a film where the romantic protagonist exhibits the emotional maturity of a six year-old.
He finally responds with a round of “I love you/I hate you/I love you.” This begins to melt her heart, but she has to be sure. “Define love,” she whispers, and he leans forward and they lock lips. To me, that seems to be evading the question, but if Mary is satisfied, who am I to kvetch?
Meanwhile, it’s here that we get “Kiss,” the one hit song to emerge from the film’s soundtrack album, “Parade.” Now, I don’t actually know if it’s true of Prince that “You don’t have to be beautiful / to turn me on.” (A sentiment, I must note, that is not particularly gallant vis-Ã -vis Ms. Scott Thomas.) However, if watching this picture has taught me anything, it’s most assuredly that ‘you don’t have to be talented / to make a film.’
Their making out eventually draws the attention, not to mention the applause, of a couple of nearby bums. At Christopher’s signal, their cheerleading ceases, lest it break the mood. I don’t think I quite appreciated how great it was that Prince kept cutting away from the make out/sex scenes so quickly earlier in the film, but I’m all too ruefully aware of it now.
We cut to a sobered up Tricky, who returns to the apartment and calls out apologies to Christopher. However, it’s not his roomie he finds there, but some of Isaac’s thugs. They demand to know Christopher’s location, and naturally Tricky endures a bit of a beating rather than tell them. Meanwhile, because he’s all sly and authentic and stuff (and more pertinently, because the three goons are absolute morons), he manages to get in some licks of his own here and there. Again, I suspect much of this is meant to be comical, although there’s precious little actual evidence to support that contention.
The cops call Isaac and inform him that Christopher’s car has been found near the pier. He orders them to call out the coast guard; because that’s the sort of thing evil industrialists can do at their whim. Then Isaac calls his men at the apartment, who report that Tricky’s been knocked out. However, he’s only playing possum. When the goon on the phone turns away, Tricky bashes him with a flower pot and escapes. As he rushes into the hall, Katy appears, and he grabs her on the way.
Mary awakens (?) again in the Grotto. Christopher isn’t in sight, and again she finds herself surrounded by a small forest of lit candles. I don’t know, that just doesn’t strike me as overly safe. She finds one of his trademark notes nearby. “I want to be an honest man,” she reads. “I’ll be your slave / just understand / how much I need you / and if I lie / I’m part of you / that’s my crime.” It goes on from there, but I’ll spare you further examples of Our Hero’s heart achingly profound doggerel.
For his part, Christopher has been walking the dock. Er, so I guess Mary isn’t in the Grotto, but just some hole. Soâ€¦what? She fell asleep (I understand completely), and he carried her to some storeroom or something—although I doubt he could physically manage it—and then returned to his car, and got a big box of candles out of the trunk, and returned to her, and arrayed them aroundâ€¦. Uhm, yeah.
In any case, Tricky and Katy magically come running up, and inform him that Isaac and the fuzz are soon going to be on his ass. Then Christopher reveals that Mary is in the Grottoâ€¦. My brain hurts. Even more, I mean. So I guess he took her to the Grotto, and they, er, played Parcheesi (that’s what I prefer to believe, so shut up) by candlelight, and she fell asleep, and then he motored back to the docks. Uhm, yeah.
The warning has come just in time, as Isaac and the goons and the cops are converging on the dock. Christopher and Tricky take a second to reaffirm that they’ll be bestest friends forever. Then Christopher motors off* in a launch while Tricky and Katy stay behind to delay the two remaining goons. They’re still complete morons—the goons, that is—so they manage to offer up some not entirely convincing whoop ass. I have to say, for an evil billionaire, Isaac sure employs a low grade of thug.[*What was Christopher doing on the docks, anyway? I guess we’ll never know. However, I still like my ending, where he returns to his Cave of Love to find that an errant candle has set the bedding ablaze and killed Mary.]
Meanwhile, Christopher’s chances for escape look slim. The coast guard cutters are right behind him, and, oh yeah, the Narrator in the beginning of the movie says he gets himself whacked. Mary hears the boat motor and runs outside, and is horrified to see the cutters trailing after her lover. She yells for him to run (where, exactly), but he lands and declares that he won’t leave without her.
Behind him, at Isaac’s instruction, a coast guardsman aims a rifle and, in a moment that will cheer the hearts of viewers forever, puts a slug in Christopher’s back. Our Hero twirls around, his big coat flapping hither and yon, altogether appearing like someone performing an interpretive dance called The Assassination of Joe Cocker.
Mary reacts in horror, as do Katy and Tricky, who suddenly come running up out of nowhere. I mean, seriously, how the hell would that work? “Don’t take Christopher yet,” Tricky begins praying, while I counter-entreated for another rifleman.
Mary, for her part, steps forward to cradle the dying Christopher in her arms. (We can tell he’s dying, because although he seems free of pain and can speak without apparent effort, he’s got that one tiny little stream of blood issuing from the corner of his mouth.) “We had fun, didn’t we?” he asks before expiring. Speak for yourself, Mister. Then he croaks, while all the subsidiary characters blubber over him. This guy not only wants to see his funeral, he wanted to orchestrate it.
Isaac appears and attempts to pull Mary away, but she refuses to leave Christopher’s side. When last we see Isaac, he’s standing alone on the beach. It’s, like, you know, symbolic. It’s kind of sad, given that he was the one mostly responsible for Christopher’s death. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.
In the epilogue, we see Tricky driving a Rolls Royce (!) in Miami, his and Christopher’s hometown. He then is seen standing on the balcony of a beautiful, lush, multi-terraced apartment. Katy appears with a letter from Mary, and we learn that Tricky is managing the apartment complex for her. A job, apparently, that pays several hundred thousand dollars a year, given his car and amazing four story seaside apartment.
We also learn that Mary has remained unattached since Christopher’s death. “Although many have asked,” she has written, “I just can’t picture myself with anyone else. I guess Christopher was right, after all.” [Presumably about how even Death can’t halt True Love.] If I’m following this right, the twenty one year-old is consigning herself to permanent spinsterhood in the memory of her Lilliputian lover.
Then, to end on a light note—although pretty much by definition, the movie ending itself provides a hell of a warm, cozy feeling—Tricky ‘comically’ starts demanding of Katy her owed rent. She squeals, and runs away. See, remember earlier in the movie, when Katy ran the hotel Tricky and Christopher lived in, and she demanded the rent, andâ€¦. Oh, you do remember. OK, then.
Then the camera pans over to some clouds. Via the magic of some celestial bluescreen technology*, we soon see Christopher/Prince floating up in the heavens, seated in the lotus position on a mat. Wearing his matador outfit and gaucho hat, shaking some maracas and accompanied by his band The Revolution, he sings one final song (perhaps the only one in the entire movie played all the way through) over the end credits. Added hilarity is provided by his band members, who sport an array of about the most stereotypical ’80s attire, make-up and hairdos imaginable.[*This is the sequence, previously alluded to, that was converted into a music video, sans the scrolling credits but printed in color. In black and white, the bluescreen effects are actually pretty decent. In the color video, however—which again is one of four included on the DVD, representing pretty much the complete extras—the illusion is markedly less convincing, with thick matte lines surrounding the people and objects in front of the bluescreen.]
The idea, obviously, is that Christopher is ‘alive’ and well and Heaven, and waiting for Mary to croak and join him. Assuming that’s the point, though, it’s difficult to explain what Tricky is doing there, since, you know, he isn’t dead. (Jerome Benton, who played Tricky, is a member of The Revolution.) Presumably they figured that by now any poor soul still left in the theater audience would be racing pell-mell towards the exit, and that thus no one would ever notice this conundrum. And really, I can’t argue that they were wrong. Also, why do we see occasional cut-ins of Mary? Got me. Perhaps thematic consistency is a hobgoblin of smaller minds than Prince’s.
Amongst the makers of the ‘great,’ in the Jabootu sense, vanity pictures of this period, Prince is arguably the winner of the Self Adoration Award, a fiercely contested after crown indeed. However, even Seagal and Shatner failed to make films in which the central tragedy is centered on the demise of their own stand-in character. (Admittedly, this is probably because their egos wouldn’t allow it.)
Possessing a more classically romantic temperament, however, Prince realized that the real ego boost came from the notion that one’s death will profoundly affect everyone around him. Sure enough, Prince’s barely differentiated analogue dies nobly and well, with a quip and a declaration of love on his lips. Meanwhile, an anguished Tricky cries and Mary knows she’ll never love again. Even the two-dimensionally villainous Isaac looks on in stunned shock, finally aware of what he has cost the world. “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone!” is a common kid’s fantasy. Prince just put his up on the screen for us all to share.
In the end, the film is all about Prince. We open with narration about his character, the climax is his death, the epilogue is the other characters dealing with the aftermath of this, and the picture ends with an extended sequence of Christopher up in heaven. Prince occasionally makes a nod towards servicing one of the other characters, but ultimately even Mary is merely a prop used to establish Christopher’s fabulousness.
Jerome Benton (Tricky) presumably remained a member of Prince’s band The Revolution, although I’m not really the guy to ask. Despite showing a decent amount of promise as an actor (and that’s in this mess), he only had major roles in two of Prince’s other films, Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge. He also had a brief cameo appearance as himself in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. He was a (perhaps blurry) ray of sunshine in this suckfest of a film, and I wish him well.
Easily the biggest name, other than Prince’s, attached to this film is Kristen Scott Thomas. She had had a small part in 1984’s miniseries Mistral’s Daughter, but Under the Cherry Moon represented her first theatrical movie role, and she garnered the traditional “Introducing” credit. She remained in France and more generally Europe, working there for several years.
She eventually started appearing in more popular movies, such as 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. Soon after that, she was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for 1996’s The English Patient. She’s since remained busy in projects big and small. Good for her. Sometimes a rose rises from a heap of crap.
Steven Berkoff achieved a bit of silver screen immortality as the villain in the massive Eddie Murphy hit Beverly Hills Cop (1984). By that time he had already been a working actor since the late ’50s. He worked in Britain early on, and appeared on such TV shows as The Avengers, The Champions, UFO and The Saint. Early film work included small roles in genre fare like Konga, Slave Girls and A Clockwork Orange.
In the ’80s his naturally dyspeptic manner brought him steady work as a heavy, in films including Outland (1981), Octopussy (19n83) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). Jabootu fans will also remember his hilarious villainous turn in 1995’s Fair Game. He remains busy with TV work and roles in smaller films.
Emannuelle Sallet (Katy) appeared only here, and in an unbilled small role in the Tawny Kitaen softcore action epic The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak (1984).
Mrs. Wellington was played by Francesca Annis, a busy character actress who gleaned an occasional lead role here and there. A few years before her appearance here, Ms. Annis had played Lady Jessica, the hero’s mother, in another notable fiasco, David Lynch’s Dune (1984). She also appeared during roughly the same time in Krull (1983). So the ’80s really weren’t that great for her. Still, she occasionally landed a better gig, as when she played Jacqueline Kennedy opposite Raul Julia and Anthony Quinn in the telepicture Onassis: The Richest Man in the World (1988). Ms. Annis’ career remains active, with regular British TV roles.
Canadian actress Alexandra Stewart (Mrs. Sharon) has also had a busy career, dating back to 1959. Among her zillions of credits was a small role in the “Shattered Vows” episode of The Hitchhiker. She also appeared, as did Kristen Scott Thomas, in the 1984 mini Mistral’s Daughter.
This was the first effort for screenwriter Becky Johnston. Whether by choice or not, she didn’t work on another script until she paired with author Pat Conroy to adapt his novel The Prince of Tides, for Barbra Streisand’s 1991 production. She next wrote the screenplay for 1997’s Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt. That’s her latest credit to date. If nothing else, she certainly has had an eclectic career.
Meanwhile, there was the mystery of Clare Fischer. First, he receives an “Orchestra Composed and Arranged by” credit. This is followed by a special notice: “With special thanks 2 Clare Fischer 4 Making Brighter the Colors Black and White.” Uhm, yeah. Always the investigator, I checked Mr. Fischer’s IMDB listing, and the orchestral credit for this movie is his only listing. Wikipedia, however, reveals that Mr. Fischer is a veteran jazz performer, whose arrangements were also used in Spike Lee’s Girl 6 and Prince’s later Graffiti Bridge. If nothing else, this movie inspired to gain a cursory knowledge of Mr. Fischer, so it’s not like watching it was completely useless.
Prince, at least as a musician and personality, presumably needs little introduction. As an actor, this was his second film, following the rather better received Purple Rain. The year after Under the Cherry Moon, he co-directed the concert film Sign ‘o’ the Times, and again attempted to direct and star in a movie with 1990’s exceedingly tepid Graffiti Bridge. When that bombed, he wisely decided to stick contributing soundtracks for other people’s movies. Most recently he composed some of the music for the 2006 Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock movie The Lake House.
Thanks to Bill Leary, for his usual skill in cleaning up my prose.