Review by Owen Gleiberman
Prince has had his follies, but never has he been associated with an album or film as lackluster as this one. To call Graffiti Bridge a feature-length rock video would be an insult to videos: The movie can barely muster the energy to get from one shot to the next. This time, Prince has forsaken his soft-core salaciousness for the higher spirituality. While his rival, the freckled dandy Morris Day, fights for control of the Glam Slam nightclub, Prince simply gazes into the camera with the winsome bedroom eyes of a naughty fawn -- he's Bambi with testosterone. In the meantime, his female costars get the usual shabby treatment. They're on the receiving end of shoves, insults, and a general attitude of pimp-like hauteur, which the movie would like to pretend is a mere put-on.
Now that Prince is into "love" (instead of salvation through sin), it's clear that there's something fundamentally nasty and perverse about his reduction of women to flesh-and-blood party dolls. Graffiti Bridge is a sad fiasco -- and except for "Shake!" the music (at least to my ears) is Prince at his most joyless, a collection of glorified rhythm tracks. For the first time, the revolutionary funkster seems to be preaching to a world that has left him behind. D-
ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS
Friday, November 2, 1990
MORRIS DAY, MUSIC NEARLY SAVE 'GRAFFITI'
Rick Shefchik, Staff Writer
Prince's new film "Graffiti Bridge" is not as terrible as advance gossip had indicated - but then, no movie could have been that bad.
Delayed several months and rumored to be in a state of constant editing almost up until Thursday's sneak premiere date, few films so essentially frivolous have been subjected to such caustic pre-release comment.
If Prince were capable of taking himself a little less seriously, "Graffiti Bridge" could have been a likable cross between "West Side Story" and one of Elvis Presley's slicker movies - say, "Loving You" or "Viva, Las Vegas."
Pretentions aside, that's a little more than "Graffiti Bridge" turned out to be at its local sneak premiere Thursday at the Willow Creek Theater complex - a cross between a typical movie musical and an Elvis-type star vehicle.
The premiere was attended by several hundred KDWB-FM listeners, and a few of Prince's current and former associates, including Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Bobby Z.
The mood in the theater was festive and anticipatory, but each time the film threatens to sustain a fleeting moment of fun - particularly when co-star Morris Day cuts up, and when The Time or Prince the Performer engage in a high-energy production number - Prince the Director scuttles his own film by interjecting a pointless bit of babbled new age poetry by female lead Ingrid Chavez, or a scene in which Prince the Actor broods about his father and his own (perceived) failures.
The ultimate effect is one of those Beach Party movies constantly interrupted by a Billy Graham crusade.
Thankfully, there are so many good musical numbers in "Graffiti Bridge" that the plot barely has time to exist.
It seems that The Kid (Prince, reprising his tortured identity from "Purple Rain") is half-owner of a club on Seven Corners called Glam Slam; Morris Day owns the other half, as well as all the other clubs on the corners. Morris wants The Kid out of Glam Slam, because his music - once again - is too spiritual for the greedy, hedonistic Day.
Morris is the Eric von Zipper comic foil in this urban beach flick, and the film is often hilarious when he's on screen. Prince deserves credit as a writer and director for recognizing Day's talents and giving him so much room to display them. Similarly, Prince gives up some of his own room to numbers by The Time, Mavis Staples, George Clinton and 13-year-old singer Tevin Campbell. Sure, they're all Paisley Park acts, but you didn't see anybody else hopping up onstage with Elvis to sing a couple of numbers in his movies.
The film's look is strictly contemporary MTV, with fog, backlighting, shadows and constant cutting. Prince's performances are outstanding, particularly his dancing, and he's secure enough about his musical ideas to allow the members of his band to grouse about the songs he chooses to play.
Prince has a terrific feel for the interplay between musicians and the humor that can be created by show business anxiety. He is completely beyond his depth as a storyteller, however, and his personal obsessions with sex and religion make even less sense on film than they do on record.
His world is one of boys in their clubhouses and girls parading around in their underwear, hoping to get the boys to take their minds off their toys. It's pretty thin stuff on which to hang a movie - unless, of course, you can make your audience forget about the inanity of it all with great music. That is the saving grace of "Graffiti Bridge."
PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, November 6, 1990
By Cary Darling, Orange County Register
It's got 2 be a Prince movie: The doe-eyed pop star in the lead. A vampish lead actress longer on looks than ability. His friends and hangers-on in the supporting roles. Songs from his latest album ladled on top of a wafer-thin plot. His penchant 4 turning numbers into words.
The formula worked spectacularly in "Purple Rain," Prince's 1984 cinematic debut and the vehicle that made good on all the promise at which his previous albums had hinted. Combining and updating the musical swagger of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, Prince was a fresh force who took rock 'n' roll traditions and made them his own.
As magnetic as Prince was, "Purple Rain" wasn't all about him. The best ad for the Twin Cities since "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the film turned the klieg light on a suddenly explosive local music scene. After all, it was singer Morris Day, as a preening cad whose ego could fill Lake Minnetonka twice, who nearly stole the purple rug from under Prince's feet.
But six years is a lifetime. What crackled with electricity the first time around loses its juice when tried again and that's exactly what Prince has done with his fourth feature, "Graffiti Bridge," a thinly disguised sequel to "Purple Rain."
Once again Prince plays the Kid, a struggling musical prodigy at odds with the venal Morris Day and his perpetual minion Jerome Benton. The Kid and Day are partners in the Glam Slam nightclub but Day, whose lust for villainy is matched only by the size of his wardrobe and length of his car, wants complete control. Into this tug-of-war falls Aura (Ingrid Chavez), an angel sent to make peace between the warring factions.
The plot mirrors Prince's dual obsessions with religion and sex. He falls deliriously in love with Chavez and finds his salvation but the theme is handled with little of the skill which has made his recent albums intriguing. Though the focus of "Purple Rain" was Prince, he wasn't the director and perhaps he needs an outside eye to offer some sense of discipline.
Prince's directorial debut, the stillborn "Under the Cherry Moon" in 1986, turned a whimsical idea - interracial romance done up as a black and white '40s-style romp in the south of France - into a shrine for bad acting and annoying mannerisms. "Graffiti Bridge," which Prince has also directed, is a marked improvement, if only because it has many more musical segments.
But the songs in "Graffiti Bridge" are by and large inferior to those in ''Purple Rain" and the gruel-weak story is an excuse to stitch together some splashy video music sequences. Chavez's acting is just two steps removed from catatonia while Day's once-charming showboat of a character is now just obnoxious.
The film looks wonderful. Instead of basing it in Minneapolis again, Prince and director of photography Bill Butler have chosen to set "Graffiti Bridge" in an interracial, blue-and-white neon-bathed urban netherworld called Seven Corners.
The greatest concept is that the main street is lined with such hot nightspots as the Clinton Club (run by George Clinton, of course), Mavis Staples' Melody Cool, Day's Pandemonium, and Prince's Glam Slam. But it's 2 little, 2 late.
If only this street existed in real life, because then everyone could regularly see Prince in his best environment: onstage. Seeing Prince labor through this film underscores the point that, after "Purple Rain," his best movie is his live concert film, "Sign o' the Times." 2 bad.
'Graffiti Bridge' (PG-13)
By Richard Harrington
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" is rated PG-13 and contains a little salty language.