Christopher Tracy (Prince) is a piano player in Nice who doubles as a gigolo, asking out various rich women for one night stands and more and living off the proceeds. He stays with his best friend Tricky (Jerome Benton) who behaves much as he does, and he comes up with an idea to make them more cash when their attention is caught by heiress Mary Sharon (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is due to come into a lot of wealth soon. Tricky posits that they should each try to win her over to get their hands on the loot, and Christopher agrees, unaware that he will fall into the trap of falling in love...
Purple Rain was a big hit around the world both as a film and an album, so it was natural that Prince, pop star, actor and celebrity enigma, should do the Elvis Presley thing and start building up a movie career for himself. The second of these efforts pretty much put paid to any dreams he may have had about that, although he did make one more venture into cinema with his sequel to Purple Rain that was even less popular than Under the Cherry Moon. However poorly it was received at the time it was released, the fact remains that this does have its fans, and not only among those who like it for the music.
It's often considered to be a drama or a romance with musical interludes, but for quite a bit of the running time the category that this fits into most snugly would be comedy, as Prince and Benton, a member of his backing band The Revolution, have a fairly decent double act going on. Or it would be if most of their gags were likely to prompt more than a quiet chuckle at best, as their humour strikes one as the kind that must have seemed hilarious for in-joking friends, but rather obscure for the rest of us. In fact, as has been pointed out, the relationship between Christopher (not the first Blue Peter presenter) and Tricky is stronger and more romantic than the one between Christopher and Mary.
This was Kristin Scott Thomas's first feature film and she apparently is no fan of it, which unfortunately comes across onscreen as she and the Purple One are not exactly a match made in heaven. Lumbered with the positively prehistoric "You went out with me for a bet? How dare you!" plotline, the two are supposed to be generating sparks with a love-hate union, but if anything this is the most tired aspect of the whole enterprise. Still, there are some very strange elements to this which may make it worth watching for the curious few, such as Mary arriving at her birthday party starkers and playing the drums (by which stage she has gained a towel to spare her blushes), or the bats in the restaurant which cause a stampede for the exit.
So if Under the Cherry Moon is too often funny peculiar instead of the intended funny ha ha, what other compensations can be garnered from it? With Prince in his eighties heyday, you can be sure the soundtrack is a decent one, but perversely we hardly see him performing it, in spite of the lead character being a musician. Some underrated tracks from his Parade album are among the highlights, including Boys and Girls (which we actually do see him sing), Anotherloverholeinyohead and the mega-hit Kiss, which we hear about a minute of and only then to accompany Prince snogging his leading lady. He had nobody but himself to blame for the way this turned out, as he fired the director Mary Lambert early on and helmed the production alone, even insisting that the colour footage be projected in black and white; some will tell you that this was some kind of spoof, and it certainly ends in unconvincing melodrama, but mostly it appears the joke was on the star.