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‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 11, 1993

The story of Ike and Tina Turner -- according to "What's Love Got to Do With It" -- is an R&B twist on "Frankenstein" and "Pygmalion." Established musician Ike Turner lifts Tennessee girl Anna Mae Bullock from obscurity, he transforms her into "Tina," then he becomes the monster.

"What's Love Got to Do With It" explores Tina Turner's bruising career, from the oppressed front lady belting out "Nutbush City Limits" to the been-to-Hell-and-back Grammy-winning chanteuse triumphantly croaking the title song. A melodrama of starry-eyed love and black-eyed beatings, exhausting road tours and the singer's even harder road to self-realization, the movie contains its emotional highs and lows in the hermetically sealed bio-pic format.

There's no escaping the Touchstone Pictures propensity for pandering cutesyness. But it's well done in this case, particularly when young chorister Anna Mae (played by precocious Rae'ven Kelly) grandstands her way through reverent hymns -- to the choir mistress's chagrin.

There are many such cute injections: the shocked look on a sister's face when Angela Bassett, as the older Tina, picks up the mike for the first time and struts her stuff; a weary dog that looks up as she pulls into town for a gig. . . . As for the movie's rise-fall-rise scenario, it's everything from "The Buddy Holly Story" to "Coal Miner's Daughter." It just happens to be Tina's Turn.

But within these boundaries, "Love" is supple entertainment -- thanks to on-the-money performances by Bassett and Laurence Fishburne as Ike. Speaking of supple, Bassett's muscle definition could have landed her a role in "Jurassic Park" -- as a tyrannosaurus rex. RoboCop would kill for cheekbones as square as these.

In fact, when she finally figures out her own strength, in a climactic back-of-the-limo fistfight with her husband, you get scared for Ike.

Sinewy flexings aside, Bassett (who was Fishburne's estranged wife in "Boyz N the Hood" and Betty Shabazz in "Malcolm X") makes a satisfying Tina. In the beginning, she's a convincing country lass who falls for Ike's famous act, only to suffer stoically his infamous abuse. Behind the microphone, she takes Tina's leggy, high-heeled act and vamps with it.

As for Fishburne, he gives a potentially thankless, coke-paranoid role a relatively empathetic presence. He preens theatrically like Morris Day, goes through countless hairstyles (from Beatles straightened mop top to angry 'fro) and tempers the explosive brutality with a poignant fear of desertion.

Based on Turner's 1986 autobiography "I, Tina" (and executive-produced by Tina Turner's manager), it's clear whose camp this movie's in. But there seems little doubt as to the veracity of her story. Ike Turner, we are told at the epilogue, was arrested and jailed on drug-related charges. But Tina, the movie fawningly adds, "continues to break audience attendance records." In this film, love for Tina has everything to do with it.

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