I have a confession to make. It's a dark secret that has stuck with me for years, haunting my every move, and threatening to bring the empire I have built with this blog crumbling down. It could destroy my credibility as a reviewer in the process, but I'm going to get it off my chest.
I saw Graffiti Bridge in theaters. Twice. And at the time, I liked it.
Don't you judge me!
I was young! I didn't know any better! I was blinded by my admiration for Prince and his work, and as everyone knows, there's a level of forgiveness inherent with being a fan of anything. I have defended Prince's second major motion picture, Under the Cherry Moon, as being a silly but entertaining musical comedy/romance, and it's a belief I'll take with me to the grave.
With age often comes wisdom, however, and as I matured I began to appreciate the art of filmmaking more and more. I began to suspect there was a reason there were no more than a dozen people in the theater either time I saw Graffiti Bridge, and several of them decided it wasn't worth staying past the halfway point. Resultantly, I could no longer deny the truth. Graffiti Bridge is a cinematic disaster on every conceivable scale.
The Time have apparently done very well for themselves, taking a controlling interest in every club in the fictional Seven Corners, except for The Kid's Glam Slam. The Kid, on the other hand, has apparently returned to relative unpopularity. Prince's idea of continuity seems to be The Kid took his spiritual sound too far after Purple Rain and people got bored of his preachy music - which isn't entirely untrue of the real Prince since becoming a Jehovah's Witness. That's entirely a guess since it's never explained what happened in the intervening years. The Glam Slam is sparsely populated, but it could be worse. It could be Melody Cool's, which apparently nobody frequents or is never open and doubles as its owners house. Come to think of it, everyone in the film seems to live in a loft in their respective clubs.
The film opens with a debate between the members of The Time and their leader, Morris Day, about the best way to increase their profits. To see whose plan gets enacted, they settle their differences by... eating a hot pepper? Is that how things are settled in The Time's business meetings? Whoever can hold the pepper in their mouth the longest wins? That seems an awfully abstract way to settle important business meetings dealing with financial situations.
Morris' goal is to take over the Glam Slam, but thankfully Prince has his guardian angel by his side in the form of Aura, a mysterious and beautiful woman who strolls into his club one night. That isn't a metaphor, by the way. Aura is, quite literally, a guardian angel - sent from heaven to show The Kid the way through Princely sayings such as "when a man screams, you must learn to whisper."
Prince's real-life muse at the time, Ingrid Chavez, plays Aura. Chavez co-wrote Madonna's "Justify My Love" with Lenny Kravitz, which she was originally denied credit for until the dispute was settled out of court. Apparently Prince thought lightning would strike twice and decided to allow Chavez the courtesy that so many of his stable of women had been given by recording an album of her nonsensical poetry. Chavez's poems are mostly stargazing hippie drivel spoken over some admittedly beautiful music from both Prince and Michael Koppelman. One gets the sense the album would have been better as a collection of instrumentals, but however ridiculous the lyrics may be, Chavez's acting is even worse.
She's easy on the eyes, no doubt, but her meek voice rarely rises above a whisper itself. In fairness, I'd be embarrassed to read that script aloud too. Aura is given a list of silly things to do, including act drunk and play a terrible game of Hangman with Prince where she just guesses letters in alphabetical order starting from "A," and she does none of them convincingly. The Hangman scene, in particular, is extremely ludicrous after The Kid reveals his word was "mine" and wordlessly points to Aura, who slowly and melodramatically points to the sky and says, "No baby. His," before slowly lowering her arm in a similarly protracted fashion. Then she apparently casts her spirituality aside and has sex with The Kid in an alley.
Things go from bad to worse for the inhabitants of Seven Corners as The Kid begins to give into the pressure to sink to Morris' level. To settle things once and for all, The Kid challenges The Time to a battle - but not a physical one, a MUSICAL ONE! Whoever wins gets control of the Glam Slam, which makes The Kid a terrible negotiator since all he stands to lose is a club with no patrons.
The Time performs the rather weak "Shake!" while The Kid and his crew take to the streets and perform the sexually-charged, superior "Tick, Tick, Bang" but still, somehow, lose. I'm not sure who the judge of the battle is. There aren't that many people outside. Morris just seems to determine The Kid lost himself and heads back into his club, leaving his enemy in the street.
With The Kid out of the way, The Time begin intimidating the other club owners to sign their clubs over to them. After a pep talk from Aura at the film's titular bridge, which deserves its own paragraph, The Kid returns just in time to watch as Aura gets run over by a Jeep for no apparent reason and seemingly die (which seems odd for an angel). Sorry if I spoiled the big plot twist for you.
At last The Kid realizes the message Aura was trying to teach him! Instead of playing Morris' game, The Kid performs one last song at the Glam Slam - the gorgeous ballad "Still Would Stand All Time" - effectively ending the film exactly the same way as Purple Rain, except this time Prince is carried off the stage, arms outstretched like Jesus, by a crowd. The ballad so moved all who witnessed it that in Seven Corners, they say, Morris' heart grew three sizes that day. Like the Grinch overcome with emotion by the Who's ability to sing in the face of adversity, Morris extends his hands to The Kid in friendship, and all is forgiven. As a reward for sticking with the film to the end, we're treated to a rap from TC Ellis.
The only redeeming quality amidst all the insanity (and inanity) are the musical performances, which are little more than glorified music videos shoehorned into the film's loose, disjointed structure. Even many of those fall flat thanks to clumsy implementation: A young Tevin Campbell performs "Round and Round" in the street for money, then is never really seen again. Gospel legend Mavis Staples, who embarrassingly speaks in Dr. Seussian rhymes all throughout the picture, leads a small parade of do-gooders in "Melody Cool" to stick it to The Time's thugs. Funk pioneer George Clinton... humps the air and makes weird faces, I suppose? To put it in perspective, Phillip C. has more lines than George Clinton. "Who is Phillip C.?" you might ask. Exactly.
Graffiti Bridge is the result of what happens when you have too much money, an ego problem, and a team of yes men. The film was so awful it failed to make its paltry budget of $6 million back. Perhaps the most telling thing about it can be summed up in five words: "Written and Directed by Prince."