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Razzies for Thanksgiving: 'Under the Cherry Moon'

November 20, 2009 |  7:45 am
Cherry Moon

Just in time for Thanksgiving, we recall the films and performances with that special blend of outlandishness, eccentricity and straight-ahead awfulness that have earned the industry's lowest honor, the Golden Raspberry Award.

1986: Worst picture (tie), worst actor, worst director, worst supporting actor, worst original song: "Under the Cherry Moon"

There are vanity films ("Gigli") and there are vanity films ("Boom!," "Battlefield Earth"), and then there are Prince's vanity films. Granted, he directed only two (not counting the concert film "Sign O' the Times") -- "Cherry Moon" and 1990's "Graffiti Bridge," a picture so willfully viewer-proof that only cult movie critic Michael J. Weldon's term "psychotronic" can adequately define it -- but both are so aggressively self-absorbed and dismissive of even the most basic elements of film structure (or entertainment) that they almost comprise their own sub-genre. "Cherry Moon" has a few things going for it -- the processed black-and-white photography by three-time Oscar nominee Michael Ballhaus is genuinely lush, and there are three terrific musical numbers, most notably a scene in which Prince sings along to the car radio as it plays his huge hit "Kiss" -- but beyond that, it's a wan and totally implausible paean to its star's sexual magnetism, which, for reasons known only to him, makes such polymorphous idols as Adam Lambert seem like old-school he-men by comparison.

Prince plays Christopher Tracy, a nightclub entertainer by day and gigolo (of sorts) by night who cruises the French Riviera in search of his latest buck. Ladies of certain means seem to fall over backwards for Christopher's attentions, but it would seem that the owner of his chantilly lace-draped heart is his pal/major domo/confidante Tricky (Jerome Benton of the Time). When they're not engaged in eye-rolling, knuckle-biting acts of muggery or sub-Stooges slapstick, the pair seem content to compare outfits, lounge about sans shirts and indulge in all manner of bitchy repartee. Their Good Thing comes to a head with the appearance of wealthy heiress Mary Sharon (Kristin Scott Thomas, looking even more bloodless and bored than usual), whose $50-million inheritance is the object of their larcenous desires until Christopher falls for her. If you cannot figure out what happens next -- in short, it's a hot dose of revelation, redemption, and sacrifice -- please hand in your Moviegoers' Club Card at the end of this essay.

There's nothing wrong with a hackneyed plot. But the script (by Becky Johnston, who later penned "The Prince of Tides" and "Seven Years in Tibet") is the least of the film's problems. Rather, it's director Prince (who replaced veteran video helmer Mary Lambert) who puts up the majority of the roadblocks in its path. For one, he bites off more than he can chew for a first-timer; attempting to stitch together elements from musicals, broad comedies, romances and melodramas is a formidable enough task for an established filmmaker, but Prince simply has no idea how to hide the seams in his embroidery. More problematic is Prince the actor. Christopher is supposed to be 5-foot-2 of Pure Sex and Charm, but more often than not, he comes across as rude, boorish and opportunistic -- in short, no one that the classy Scott Thomas would fall so head over heels for. More believable, in its own high camp way, is the relationship between Christopher and Tricky, though one imagines that their mincing shtick must have baffled many of Prince's younger female fans.

With so little going for it, there was little surprise that "Under the Cherry Moon" was a dismal failure during its brief theatrical run, with a gross that hovered somewhere around $10,000 (on a budget of $12 million). Even its promotional campaign was a disaster; an MTV-sponsored premiere in Sheridan, Wyo. (of all places) was marred by vandals, who swiped several parts from the '64 Buick Prince pilots in the film. It cleaned up at the 7th Annual Razzie Awards, where it shared top prize of worst film with "Howard the Duck" and took four others, with Scott Thomas earning (but not winning) noms for worst supporting aActress and worst new actress, and Johnston landing the worst screenplay nod. The double whammy clearly had little or no impact on Scott Thomas' career; it's unlikely that few, if any of the viewers who have rallied around her Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated turn in "The English Patient" (not to mention "I've Loved You So Long"), remember this early misstep. Similarly, Prince's career rebounded, after lengthy and complex mutations, and he exists now as a beloved pop figure whose "genius" label is actually warranted. In the case of "Cherry Moon," however, the Razzie is equally on the money.

-- Paul Gaita

Photo: Prince in "Under the Cherry Moon." Credit: Warner Bros.

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