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‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 11, 1993

"What's Love Got to Do With It"? Not much, I'm afraid.

An exploration of Tina Turner's life with the abusive Ike, it's a sketchy but brutal bio-pic with a weft of beatings and a warp of rhythm and blues. One minute she's belting out "Proud Mary," the next Ike's belting her. The film, like the the couple's co-dependent relationship, is fiercely acted out and ablaze with flashy production numbers.

Lip-syncing to Turner's vocals but strutting her own freshly pumped stuff, Angela Bassett as Tina sings the lyrics of her life. When she first meets Ike (Laurence Fishburne), a fast-talking bigwig on the chitlin circuit, she takes the juke joint by storm with "You Know I Love You." This she follows up with "A Fool in Love," accompanied by the eye-rolling Ikettes, and after her first on-screen licking, she wails "I Think It's Gonna Work Out Fine."

Bassett, who played opposite Fishburne in "Boyz N the Hood," most recently was the devout Muslim Betty Shabazz in "Malcolm X," a character of considerable restraint. This role, which shows off Bassett's ferocity and range, promises to win her an Oscar nomination. A handsome woman with the lanky appeal of Katharine Hepburn, Bassett brays and bruises with equal effectiveness. A star is born, even if the movie's most memorable scene features Rae'ven Kelly as little Tina, who is expelled from choir practice for her tarted-up version of "This Little Light of Mine."

Fishburne's performance is astounding for the humanity he brings to the thinly drawn Ike, who turns inexplicably from a charming womanizer to a coke-snorting wife-beater. Fishburne, who played an exemplary father figure in "Boyz N the Hood," is anything but that here. He is a Svengali who is able to draw his family back again and again despite his frequent rampages.

Ike, who takes credit for Tina's discovery and development, becomes increasingly jealous of her popularity. Over their long marriage, he becomes ever more violent -- effectively demonstrated in a graphic rape scene. But she stays on and on and on. Abandoned by her own mother as a girl, she refuses to do the same thing to her children, including her two stepsons.

In the mid-'70s, she suddenly converts to Buddhism, which gives her the courage to kick Ike in the you-know-what when he starts slapping her around in a limo. Battered but unbowed, she leaves Ike, does a couple of gigs in Vegas and goes on to become a bottle-blond megastar. There's a final, apparently bogus confrontation between Tina and a gun-toting Ike prior to her triumphant 1983 comeback at the Ritz in New York.

The truth is occasionally stretched, and decidedly unflattering episodes of her life are ignored. There's no reference to Tina's first child by a member of Ike's band, nor to the nose dive in America of "River Deep, Mountain High," which put Phil Spector in a three-year funk. Writer Kate Lanier's screenplay is, after all, based on the singer's autobiography, "I, Tina," and the film was made with Turner's collaboration. Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that Ike is a bigger pig than Mister of "The Color Purple."

Overlong and repetitious, the film doesn't live up to the high expectations set by its charming opening scene, but the musical numbers, which often feature the original wigs and trashy Ikettes gear, are handily directed by Brian Gibson of the HBO movie "The Josephine Baker Story." The mitigating factor is that Bassett overcomes the limitations of the role to become more than a punching bag.

"What's Love Got to Do With It" is rated R for profanity, sex and violence.

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