CineSlice

A.J. Hakari's sporadically-updated musings on the wide world of movies

Month: February, 2014

“Madman” (1982)

"Madman" poster

 

Sometimes, I don’t think I have the bank account it takes to be a horror fan. There doesn’t seem to be a price high enough that some genre aficionado won’t pay for a misprinted, VHS variant of the shoddiest shot-on-video shinola known to man. That so few of these titles are actually entertaining enough to justify the pursuit is another important factor, as the case appears to be with the 1982 slasher outing Madman. As I write this, used copies of the cult favorite (a label that gets affixed to anything that five people in the world still remember lately) start at $20 on Amazon, and the film continues to thrive in revival screenings to this day. Seeing as how it doesn’t get nearly as much press as your Halloweens and Friday the 13ths, one might assume Madman to be an unjustly passed-over gem. But stay with it for a few, insufferably-boring minutes, and you’ll see why obscurity should have locked this dud up and thrown away the key.

Countless legends of bloodthirsty killers have been told over the years, and Madman Marz (Paul Ehlers) is one of them. He was a rotten S.O.B. who snapped and massacred his whole family out of the blue one day, before a local posse strung him up. But the story goes that Marz’s body was never found, and he’s still said to roam the woods, waiting for some poor soul to say his name above a whisper and provoke his homicidal wrath. To the savvy counselors at a camp for gifted children, he’s nothing more than a campfire tale, but this is one myth that turns out to be the truth. Madman Marz still stalks the forest, and this time, he’s set his sights on the loudmouthed teenagers who dared to make a joke out of him. One by one, the counselors are picked off in increasingly grotesque ways, leaving Betsy (Alexis Dubin), T.P. (Tony Fish), and anyone lucky to be alive to band together and try to survive the night.

If you had to pick one movie to summarize the cynical, post-Halloween glut of slashers that existed only to cash in on a trend, Madman wouldn’t be a bad choice. Even some of the most obscure pictures of its kind have something that makes them a draw (a distinctive killer costume, memorable death scenes, etc.), but anything of the sort is conspicuously absent here. Madman is simply devoid of any personality or pizazz, presenting the bare slasher basics with zero enthusiasm and almost no style. It plays like a laundry list of stuff every other ’80s horror movie felt obligated to include: sexed-up teenagers, a few gory centerpieces, a camp setting (although this bucks tradition by taking place in the fall, rather than the summer), and that’s really it. The flick isn’t even sleazy enough to work anyone up into a heated, Roger Ebert-esque fit; it’s just that boring, failing to make the slightest impression with its set-up, its antagonist, or the ensuing body count.

I should say that Madman does exhibit some promise on the outset, but writer/director Joe Giannone fritters it away in a matter of scenes. With its foreboding opening credits, an effective campfire prologue, and an unsettling synth score, it looks as if the movie is well on its way to being a spooky little jaunt. But after the countdown for the victim pool’s whittling-down officially begins, things get uninteresting in a hurry, with Giannone drumming up neither concern for the charisma-free characters or fear of the boilerplate baddie over the course of 88 dull minutes. Once in a while, we’ll see an instance of creepy mood lighting (the film features a very blue-tinted color scheme) or a well-executed kill scene (the car hood decapitation is a highlight). But for the most part, it rehashes the same cycle of emotionally-vacant counselors being hunted by a shambling, oafish bad guy whose growling inspires more snickers than shrieks.

Not every slasher movie has to aspire to Halloween‘s heights, but for Madman to amount to so little throughout its running time is a feat of astounding laziness. As obviously as the likes of April Fool’s Day, My Bloody Valentine, and others hitched rides on the coattails of their predecessors, at least one can see what attracted viewers to them and earned them their reputations. As for Madman, it’s hard to imagine many viewers staying awake to the end, let alone gathering en masse and forming a fanbase to celebrate it.

“Pennies from Heaven” (1981)

"Pennies from Heaven" poster

In the 1930s, distraction was the nation’s largest commodity. All those frothy vintage musicals that seem even lighter today were intended to take our collective minds off of the Great Depression, easing the pain of hard times with a little song and dance. But as with most things, escapism has a dark side, and it’s this reality that director Herbert Ross (Play It Again, Sam) aimed to explore in 1981’s Pennies from Heaven. Based on a BBC series by Dennis Potter, the movie contrasts ultra-splashy musical numbers with the bleakness from which audiences sought shelter. For a while, Pennies from Heaven is a fascinating study of two people who let their dreams get the best of them, but it’s not long before the film itself becomes overwhelmed with being a downer and loses sight of what it’s about.

Arthur (Steve Martin) wants to live where the songs come true. As a sheet music salesman, it’s hard not to become preoccupied with tunes that promise the sort of happiness that his meager earnings and frigid wife (Jessica Harper) haven’t given him. Arthur’s obsessive pursuits of greener pastures leads him to enter a brief fling with schoolteacher Eileen (Bernadette Peters) while on the road. Herself a bona fide dreamer who wants more out of life, Eileen falls into Arthur’s arms and almost instantly buys into his shallow charms. In their own minds, the pair imagines their fantasies coming true, playing out in full technicolor and with incredible choreography. But the real world continues to bear down on them, with Arthur’s wandering eye wrapping him up in a crime he didn’t commit and Eileen being forced to fend for herself when she loses her job.

I’m not sure if Pennies from Heaven‘s problems are deeply-rooted in the story itself or the result of a few cut corners too many. Potter was tasked with adapting his own six-part TV drama into less than two hours and reportedly had to rewrite his script thirteen times, so I really wouldn’t doubt if something important ended up being gutted. Pennies from Heaven has a strong beginning and a very grim finale, but it seems to be missing the proper journey to connect the two. Though it often feels as if it’s building up to some greater purpose, Ross never lets slip as to what it is, nor does he really know what to make of the fantasies in which his lead characters constantly indulge. The musical numbers (which feature the actors lip-synching to the original songs) are executed with an obvious sense of irony, but what criticisms they’re supposed to be registering are anyone’s guess. It’s as though the mere fact that their innocence is playing against such a dreary setting is supposed to be enough to engage viewers — which, considering the sub-par character insight that follows, it definitely isn’t.

Such narrative shortcomings are detrimental to Pennies from Heaven, which boasts the talent and the spending money of something that should be knocking our socks off. The production design is absolutely flawless, from Bob Mackie’s amazing costumes to the Busby Berkeley-style fantasy sequences. No matter what subversive implications they’re intended to carry, the numbers were put together with a certain amount of reverence to the golden age of movie musicals. Perhaps it’s that they look so smashing or that the actors are having such a blast cutting a rug that ultimately makes it hard to buy Pennies from Heaven as commentary on the consequences of watching too many Fred Astaire pictures. You just don’t learn enough about the characters for any valid points to emerge, with the cast caught in the crossfire and stuck working overtime with material that’s undermining them at every turn. As good as Martin and Peters are in their respective roles, you never come to view Arthur as the smooth-talking charmer he’s positioned as, just as one never understands why Eileen keeps falling back in with him, no matter how progressively streetwise she becomes during the film.

With its unconventional set-up, Pennies from Heaven really grips you out of the gate. It’s bold and different enough to make folks turn their heads, but despite the obvious care that went into making the movie look incredible, the story’s lack of a solid backbone causes that initial enthusiasm to wear off in a hurry. Though it can throw all the tap-dancing Christopher Walkens it wants at us, Pennies from Heaven holds about as much water as one of Arthur’s sales pitches.

“The Fitzgerald Family Christmas” (2012)

"The Fitzgerald Family Christmas" poster

For all their tidings of comfort and joy, holiday movies are still pretty low on the cinematic totem. There are the obvious exceptions (especially A Christmas Story, because it’s A Christmas Story, dammit), but these tend to be some of the most pandering pictures on the planet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen insultingly melodramatic shenanigans trotted out on screen, only for some moral about the spirit of the season to try and excuse it away. More than just about any other genre, it’s clear when the filmmakers are being insincere, which is one thing I cannot say about the otherwise tedious dramedy The Fitzgerald Family Christmas. Writer/director/star/caterer Edward Burns has been cranking out small-scale flicks for years, and this one feels no less personal. But it’s still a pretty lousy sit, with no shortage of clichéd, exposition-heavy writing that makes the characters look like anything but the flawed human beings with whom we’re intended to identify.

December 25th is fast approaching, and the Fitzgeralds of New York are readying for their annual get-together…or at least that’s what older brother Gerry (Burns) expects. After his father (Ed Lauter) walked out on the family twenty years prior, Gerry has taken it upon himself to look after his mom (Anita Gillette) and guide his siblings to the best of his abilities. But this year, the Fitzgerald kids are too preoccupied to show up for their mother’s 70th birthday, let alone stick around for Christmas two days later. From little brother Cyril (Tom Guiry) trying to move on with life after rehab and big sister Dottie (Marsha Dietlein) shacking up with a much younger man, it appears that everyone has somewhere else to be or someone with whom they’d rather be in bed. However, the biggest bombshell has yet to be dropped — Pops Fitzgerald wants to come home, driving Gerry to try even harder to bring his clan together and make the decision of whether or not to let the sins of the past be forgiven.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas has a good story in mind, but it picks the most ungainly, roundabout way of telling it. Burns gives himself perhaps too much ground to cover, as his character’s efforts to reunite his extended but disjointed brood, the dilemma of whether they should let their estranged father back into their lives, and each of the Fitzgeralds’ own personalized crises all find themselves jostling for attention. He tries to give everything equal standing in the narrative, but doing so involves cutting an incredible amount of corners and reducing a series of complicated subplots into simplistic shadows of themselves. Nowhere is this more obvious than whenever the focus is on any Fitzgerald who has a significant other, the latter of whom (save for maybe one) are all revealed to be horrible douche-canoes but given no motivation for being so rotten. Burns’s ultimate message is the importance of family, but whether it was the intention or not, the abundance of one-dimensionally evil love interests plays like a condemnation of any slightly unconventional lifestyle; abandon all hope of a happy ending, ye who have the hots for someone of a different age bracket.

Everyone in The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is damaged goods to some degree, but don’t hold your breath for an explanation. Though it’s assumed that their patriarch’s absence did a number on every kid’s psyche, no effort is made to flesh out just what screwed them up. The Fitzgeralds are almost entirely defined by the emotional baggage they lug about and how peeved they are at their dad, neither of which shares a particularly strong connection with the other. The sadness of their lives is pretty much all we have to be interested in, since the comedy is even more ill-conceived (unless the idea of a woman taking her atheist daughter’s son to be baptized in secret strikes you as gut-busting). But if anything comes close to saving The Fitzgerald Family Christmas from going under, it’s the actors, all of whom try their hardest to pull together as a once close-knit clan that’s drifted apart over the years. Burns succeeds in pulling off the most complex and subtle performance of the lot, refreshingly non-showy as the by-proxy man of the house who’s trying to keep his own life and potential romance from falling to pieces.

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas isn’t a movie — it’s a guilt trip. After all the trouble it goes to in order to touch upon delicate subject matter, the film spends an awful lot of time simply wagging its finger, scolding the viewer for even thinking that looking after your own desires once in a while is a good thing. It’s more genuine than a Deck the Halls could ever hope to be, but The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is more likely to spread seasonal depression than holiday cheer.

“A King in New York” (1957)

"A King in New York" poster

Charles Chaplin had the privilege of lasting longer than the great silent comics were usually allowed after the advent of sound. Where it took the 1930s all of a few years to chew up and spit out poor Buster Keaton, Chaplin flourished, answering the challenge to adapt with a string of films that are considered by many to be his very best. But not even he was immune to time and circumstance taking the punch out of his material, and though at what point this exactly took place is a matter of debate, A King in New York is a strong suspect. It’s not that the premise is completely out of its creator’s wheelhouse; with its social commentary and compassion for the downtrodden, this film is undeniably Chaplin. But with A King in New York, he lets fancy run rampant way too much, relegating his observational humor into choppy snippets that undermine the greater narrative.

Shahdov (Chaplin) is a king without a country. A revolution has forced him to flee the land he once ruled over, along with his valet (Oliver Johnston) and however much of the treasury he could hoard. But soon, Shadhov barely has a penny to his name, after a scheming advisor makes off with the loot and leaves the king’s plans to revolutionize atomic power high and dry. In the meantime, His Majesty takes a crash course in American culture, confronting the horrors of teenage girls whipped into a rock ‘n’ roll-fueled frenzy and smart-alecky moppets with an affinity for Karl Marx. He also becomes a prime target for ruthless advertisers, including Ann Kay (Dawn Addams), who tries recruiting the king for commercials but ends up falling for him. What we see as commonplace, Shahdov finds utterly bewildering, a position that leads to serious consequences when the Red Scare comes to call.

Considering the craftsman Chaplin proved himself to be on so many occasions, it’s hard to imagine A King in New York turning out as sloppy as it did. Though the movie came about long after he was scrutinized for beliefs many saw as tantamount to Communism, one wouldn’t expect a rebuttal this weak from the furious satirist who made The Great Dictator. Cries for social justice can be heard here, albeit faintly, drowned out in great part by Chaplin’s conspicuously hands-off storytelling. Those moments in which he does take a stand are almost indistinguishable from his cutesy little commentaries on the culture of the time (which, admittedly, hasn’t changed very much today). There is a subplot in which Shadhov befriends a young boy (played by Chaplin’s own son, Michael) whose folks have been pegged as Commies, but it’s paid about as much mind as an extended scene involving the king’s wacky adventures with plastic surgery. Though Chaplin’s intentions are noble, the film is sorely lacking the bold wit and invention with which he presented his lessons in the past; here, he stops just short of carting around an “UNFAIRLY PERSECUTING OTHERS IS BAD” sign for 100 minutes.

Even A King in New York‘s comedy is in a state I dread to call lazy. Where Chaplin in his prime would comment on society through visually-novel and beautifully-executed little sequences, this film simply points at stuff and goes, “That’s weird, huh?” Just about every scene and subplot plays out like this, with Chaplin jumping ship whenever he feels like it and leaving an erratic, virtually nonexistent narrative in his wake. Shahdov argues with a kid and sits on a pie — end of scene. Shahdov sees outlandish movie ads in a theater — that’s it. Just about the entire movie is comprised of episodes like these, and while they’re not without their laughs or valid points declared, the stop-and-go pacing makes jumping aboard the plot a tiresome enterprise. Chaplin applies what grace and beauty he can to these scenes, but it’s disheartening to see their ultimate effect be no different than a comic just listing off things he doesn’t like.

There is worth to A King in New York, just on a very minor scale. It’s an amusing little picture, but when you see its hesitance compared to the level of passion Chaplin previously brought to his productions, a chuckle here and there just doesn’t cut it. A King in New York was Charlie’s last leading role, but one almost wishes he’d have called it quits before having to make it at all.

No Review Today (2/11/14)

Personal matters. Reviews will resume this Saturday, with my take on A King in New York. Thank you.

-A.J.

“Frankenstein Created Woman” (1967)

"Frankenstein Created Woman" poster

 

Every horror fan has his or her idea of what image best epitomizes Hammer Studios’ legendary genre catalogue. For some, it’s that of Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula, with his cape billowing and befanged maw poised to plunge into a buxom starlet’s jugular. But I’ve always gravitated towards Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, who toiled in cluttered, ramshackle laboratories in hopes of conquering death’s secrets. This doctor is no misguided scientist; his arrogance is palpable, making you wonder how he’s going to try and spit in God’s face through sequel after sequel. No matter what, you’re in for a funky good time, and even at its fourth entry — Frankenstein Created Woman — the franchise’s penchant for perverse pleasures has barely worn thin.

As our tale begins, Frankenstein has moved on from merely jolting corpses back to life. This time, his interests lie with the incorporeal, namely in capturing and containing what we call the human soul. Remarkably, Frankenstein succeeds in completing a contraption to perform such a daunting task, but how to test it? Enter Hans (Robert Morris), a poor lad who’s gotten a lot of bad licks out of life. His family’s criminal history has made romancing his sweetheart Christina (Susan Denberg) difficult, with further tragedy striking after Hans is pegged for a murder he didn’t commit. But slinking in the background is Frankenstein, whose experiments allow Christina to help her beloved exact otherworldly vengeance on those who wronged them.

Frankenstein Created Woman is a bit of an odd duck in its series. If anything, it stands out mostly because the Baron himself doesn’t figure into the story all that prominently. Oh, he’s around, alright, for his scientific meddling leads to the ghastly horrors that run deep throughout the movie’s final act. But Frankenstein isn’t the main focus, nor is he actively diabolical, for that matter. He serves as bystander to Hans and Christina’s doomed love story, which is handled pretty tenderly. Frankenstein Created Woman is among Hammer’s sadder hours, so adding Cushing playing as big of a bastard as he did in the previous films would be pushing it a little. Director and studio stalwart Terence Fisher still strikes an effective compromise between its romance and its bloodlust, keeping the drama from becoming too cloying and the violence from reaching exploitative heights. It still bears the markings of a Frankenstein follow-up, just one that rewards viewers by looking at the formula from a slightly different angle than usual.

An old-fashioned affair through and through, Frankenstein Created Woman could’ve done with a touch of modernization. With the premise it presents, a whole realm of sexual politics is up for the exploring (as was the case in one of my favorite Hammer outings, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), but the movie doesn’t so much as glance in that direction. But while an element of daring might’ve helped it make a more lasting impression, Frankenstein Created Woman works well enough with what traditional trappings it has. Even in a dialed-back performance, Cushing is still plenty high and mighty, his Baron navigating through rooms of crude scientific paraphernalia with the confidence of a man who’s spent a lifetime mastering them. As the lovers, Morris and Denberg make for a sympathetic pair, with the latter effortlessly pulling double duty in a role that requires her to play equal parts fragile and seductive.

Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment, Frankenstein Created Woman has risen once more, now in a rather spiffy new Blu-ray release. Boasting such extras as a trailer, a photo gallery, feature commentary, two episodes of the “World of Hammer” TV show, and a new documentary about Hammer’s harem of leading ladies, an edition like this would be a treat for one of the studio’s flagship titles, let alone something from the B-squad. Though a smidge of boundary-pushing would’ve been nice, Frankenstein Created Woman teems with just the right blend of blood, skin, and moody atmosphere nevertheless.

“The Fifth Estate” (2013)

"The Fifth Estate" poster

You can’t look up “controversial” in the dictionary without spotting Julian Assange’s mug lurking on the page. As the founder of information-sharing website WikiLeaks, his call for true transparency for all government and corporate dealings has been lauded by some, while others proclaim him a traitor for publishing sensitive, unedited documents that put people’s lives at risk. Assange is one of the modern era’s most polarizing figures, a man whose story is ideal for cinematic adaptation, albeit requiring a sizable amount of tact to be pulled off properly. Unfortunately, Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate falls short of bringing enough finesse for the job, nervously wading though the ethical quagmire that is the age of information freedom and dredging up a limp-wristed attempt to play itself down the middle.

“Sherlock” actor and object of Tumblr’s obsession Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange, who, in 2007, was just another activist hoping to change the word. With his drive to see the dirty dealings of large companies revealed to all, it’s no wonder that he’d eventually attract someone like Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl), a restless youth with similar ambitions. Impressed with Berg’s determination, Assange lets him in on the ground floor of WikiLeaks, a page the two toil at establishing as a safe haven for whistleblowers. From exposing the illegal practices of Swiss banks to blowing the lid off of Scientology’s secrets, the notoriety of WikiLeaks proceeds to grow larger and larger with every story scooped. But as the world sharpens its gaze on the site, the more Berg sees how it has effected Assange, who allows his yearning for more high-profile information to cloud his concern for those who might pay a harsh penalty upon its publishing.

You may view Julian Assange as a hero or a villain, but it’s hard to deny that the world of WikiLeaks is not a black and white one. Though it’s true that the public should be privy to a great deal of what the powers that be have determined be hidden at all costs, special consideration should also be taken when the goings-on of those in particularly precarious positions come into question. The Fifth Estate at least makes the effort to address this gray area, initially depicting Assange and Berg as crusaders against truly unsavory behavior before being faced with what road to take when American military secrets land in their laps. Ultimately, the film picks a side, although it does so through rather cheap means. It’s not enough for The Fifth Estate to cast Assange as a boogeyman to flame right-wing fears of transparency being a slippery slope to doom; the script also makes sure it goes heavy on whatever skeezy mannerisms it can to make him look like an all-around gross person, period. The movie comes packed with low blows (eww, just look at how Assange licks food off his fingers without wiping them!), which may very well be true but don’t jibe with the “fair and balanced” front it likes to think it’s maintaining.

I don’t mind that The Fifth Estate hands down an “Assange was a creepozoid” verdict, but that so much of the process involved what boils down to grade-school name-calling is another story. Simplicity is the film’s downfall, with no image of Assange other than that of a Machiavellian power-monger delivered and Berg’s audience surrogate on hand only to call out when bad things happen, just so we’re extra sure. Condon likely wanted to capture modern history in the making (a la The Social Network), but the whole production is just so ineffective, lacking strong enough convictions for anyone to hate or love it with any real passion. Whatever ails The Fifth Estate isn’t the fault of the actors, each of whom is trying his and her darnedest to make it seem like interesting stuff is happening. Brühl’s fittingly wide-eyed Berg doesn’t fare as well considering how flatly the character comes across, but Cumberbatch finds some success in trumping Assange’s quirks and bringing out what made him such a compelling personality in the first place. The supporting cast is a Who’s Who of familiar and talented faces (Laura Linney, Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis, Stanley Tucci, etc.) all addressing one another in very stern tones, while the combined soundtracks to every ’90s techno-thriller ever made blast our eardrums in a vain assault aimed at convincing us that some serious shit is going down.

The fact that The Fifth Estate will live in Hollywood infamy not because of its politics or its stance on WikiLeaks but because of its box office is a testament to what weak sauce it really is. After its hurried rush to strike while the topical iron was still hot, that its terrible final tally (which, compared to its budget of less than $30 million, isn’t even that big of a deal) is the only thing most people will recall is proof enough of the sort of impression you can expect it to leave. Whether Mr. and Mrs. America weren’t ready to be taught about WikiLeaks or could just smell a stinker from a mile away, The Fifth Estate came, saw, and conquered few attention spans.

“Graffiti Bridge” (1990)

"Graffiti Bridge" poster

 

There’s some weird, alternate universe out there in which Prince became one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. All the qualifications are in order: a thriving fanbase carried over from his career in music, exotic looks, and an offbeat persona that would serve him well in character parts to win over the critics. Why Prince instead chose to cast himself in his fleeting tour of cinematic duty as a misogynistic asshole is either the product of a deluded mind who really thinks he’s that awesome or an act of artistic self-sabotage that’d make Shia LaBeouf beam with pride. In any case, the Artist’s last directorial outing, Graffiti Bridge, is in the odd position of having a worse story than any of the man’s previous pictures, yet his character is depicted as much less of a morally-reprehensible shitheel. But a douche he remains, and tolerable as it may be when compared to its siblings, the film is still a queasy collision of pop and pretense.

In what’s essentially a sequel to Purple Rain, Prince reprises his role as the Kid, who’s moved on from being just another struggling musician. He’s now co-owner of the hip Glam Slam club, with the other half bequeathed to his old rival, Morris (Morris Day). Having gotten his fingers into every other juke joint in the neighborhood, Morris schemes to next claim for himself Glam Slam, whose downturn in attendance the Kid is too proud to acknowledge. Our hero believes in the purity of the music that’s begun turning his customers away, and his faith is only bolstered by the encouragement of an ethereal beauty named Aura (Ingrid Chavez). Literally heaven-sent to inspire the Kid, Aura works what magic is at her disposal to stir the man’s soul and prepare him for a showdown with Morris that will decide Glam Slam’s fate for good.

Graffiti Bridge is like Xanadu without the depth. As maligned as 1980’s amazing technicolor turkey was, it was rather clear on its message about uniting people through art and the hardships suffered when creating it. The film was a mess, but you got the point, which is more than what Graffiti Bridge can call its own. This is one of those flicks that goes on about how deep it is without putting any actual meaning behind it, the kind of movie where one musician is declared better at their craft than the other, despite both sounding exactly the same. Prince prances, poses, and posits endless poetic declarations about how his character is going to change the world, yet not one concrete conclusion is yielded. In fact, there’s not much reason at all to even cheer on the Kid, save for that he’s just a couple shades less egotistical and selfish than Morris. Here we have a movie in which there’s no one to root for, one that likes to pretend it’s blowing our minds while never once hitting a satisfyingly triumphant note.

Make no mistake, Prince is a musical wunderkind (mostly), and Graffiti Bridge‘s soundtrack has no shortage of the style that helped the man rocket up the charts back in the day. Removed from the context of a motion picture with one of those plot thingies the kids keep going on about, both Prince’s and Morris’ numbers are loaded with catchy beats and suave swagger aplenty. It’s when they have to play people whose goings-on we’re supposed to care about that Graffiti Bridge collapses in on its own gaping emptiness. The Kid is a completely flat protagonist whose dismissive regard of anyone other than himself does nothing for our concern for his artistic aspirations. Slick as he’s remained throughout the years, Day simply makes for a really uninteresting bad guy whose influence is called into question a number of times (shown at one point to be strong-arming his way into taking control of the very nightclubs he was established as owning already at the start of the movie). Then we have Chavez, whose Aura might’ve become an interesting character, had she been presented with any motivation for helping out the Kid or did anything that actually got results; apparently, whispering fridge-magnet poetry for 90 minutes counts as a job well done in her book.

Graffiti Bridge‘s worst offense might be that it’s just a really boring movie. Lacking the verve to go down in a blaze of kitschy glory like Purple Rain did (let’s face it, the movie blew), this settles for stagnancy, not even resorting to truly bonkers lengths in its constant search for artistic validation. I’d suggest hitting up Graffiti Bridge solely for its tunes, but even they can’t redeem what would become yet another wasted Netflix rental.