Prince's new film, "Graffiti Bridge," should be bronzed immediately and delivered to Hollywood's Hall of Shamelessness, where it might draw bigger crowds than it's likely to at movie theaters once word gets out about how thoroughly execrable it is. By comparison, Prince's "Under the Cherry Moon," a Golden Turkey honoree just a few years back, looks like "Citizen Kane."
We are talking major disaster here, the dynamite that's likely to destroy Prince's increasingly shaky reputation as a pop genius. Somebody stop him before he films again!
There are so many problems with "Graffiti Bridge." The major one is that this "contemporary musical drama" stars and was directed by Prince, who also wrote the script and the score. This may be four hats too many.
A sequel of sorts to "Purple Rain," it's about a power struggle between rival nightclub owners (Prince and Morris Day) with an oh-so-serious subtext about a Higher Force, angels, faith and the struggle between the spiritual and the sexual, territory Prince has often explored in his music. Unfortunately, in the script's never-ending struggle between good and bad, bad always wins out.
Where to start?
"Purple Rain," which turned Prince into a megastar, was a film with genuine dramatic elements. "Graffiti Bridge" is self-hagiography, an overextended video with a preposterous plot, suggesting that the music came first, the script last. And where "Purple Rain's" energy came from real performances folded into the plot, the musical numbers here feel not only unconnected but lip-synced, badly in several instances.
"Graffiti Bridge" was apparently shot almost entirely on a neon-funk set built at Prince's 65,000-square-foot Paisley Park sound stage. This may have been economically wise and in keeping with the film's dark, surreal edge, but the end result is that the film looks, sounds and feels like an MTV video.
Where "Purple Rain" had Prince testing his fans by making "difficult" music, "Bridge" has him struggling to meld funk and gospel. "People tell me you been making that spiritual noise again," Day says dismissively. "I can't make no money that way. ... This music will never change anybody."
Unfortunately, it seems to have imbued Prince with something of a messiah complex, albeit undermined by Prince's penchant for poor-pitiful-me close-ups and a fashion senselessness that ranges from a stubble-beard that looks sketched on to clothes that look like Kim Basinger castoffs.
As for the battle of the clubs, it's really internecine struggle within the Minnesota musical mafia -- Prince (and Paisley Park sidekicks Tevin Campbell, George Clinton and Mavis Staples) vs. Morris Day and the Time. This provokes a certain amount of macho posturing, but both the funk performances and the attendant choreography seem seriously dated, as if "Graffiti Bridge" had been shot in 1984, right after "Purple Rain."
Things go from bad to verse when Prince introduces Ingrid Chavez as Aura, a mysterious angel who gets a glimpse of Hell when she's forced to recite Prince poetry. Chavez also serves as a romantic foil between the godly-goodly Prince and the seedy-greedy Day. Day's self-centered shtick is funny in 10-second bites, but his cool-fool character quickly grows tedious. Reputation-wise, no one gets out of this film alive.
At several points a white feather floats through "Graffiti Bridge." One suspects it has escaped from Prince's brain, much like the film itself. "Man, this is embarrassing," someone says at one point. Man, it sure is.
Graffiti Bridge, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains a little salty language.