“Graffiti Bridge” (1990)
by A.J. Hakari
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.