Movie review XXX "What's Love Got To Do With It," with Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. Directed by Brian Gibson, from a screenplay by Kate Lanier. Based on the book "I, Tina," by Tina Turner and Kurt Loder. Uptown, Factoria, Lewis & Clark. "R" - Restricted because of profanity, violence, subject matter. -------------------------------------------------------------------
Tina Turner has understandably expressed reservations with "What's Love Got To Do With It," the energetic, if entirely conventional film based on her 1986 memoir, "I, Tina." Lamenting the film's emphasis on the darkest, most difficult years of her marriage to ex-husband Ike Turner, Tina has said she will not watch the film despite her close participation in its production.
The rest of us needn't share her reluctance. Her story is worth telling, and the film, regardless of its dramatic liberties, is an honorable and superbly acted tribute to its subject.
Spanning a quarter century of Turner's career, the film opens with a charming glimpse of her roots in Tennessee, where the young Anna Mae Bullock (Tina's real name) adds exuberant flair to a Baptist church choir. Shortly thereafter, she is abandoned by her mother and is raised by her grandmother until 1958, when the now-grown Anna (Angela Bassett) reunites with her mother and sister in St. Louis.
It is there that she meets Ike (Laurence Fishburne), who is duly impressed with her impromptu "audition" during a nightclub performance, and invites her to join his Kings of Rhythm revue.
This straightforward chronology proceeds as Ike and Tina are propelled to fame and (thanks to Ike's fiscal recklessness) elusive fortune. Notable events include Tina's recording sessions with legendary producer Phil Spector in 1966, and opening for the Rolling Stones in London in 1968, with each stage of their career painstakingly re-created through a well-controlled progression of costume trends and production design.
But the main focus is on Ike's transformation into an emotional and physical terrorist, fearful of professional abandonment and determined to monopolize every phase of Tina's progress. With the monstrous Ike, Tina's life rides a downward trajectory leading inevitably to divorce in 1977.
To this end, "What's Love Got To Do With It" becomes a powerful portrait of emotional endurance, propelled by the outstanding performances of Bassett and Fishburne, both of whom lend a crucial dimension to the gradual redundancies of Kate Lanier's otherwise insightful screenplay.
Through flawless lip-syncing to Tina Turner's recordings and uncanny re-creations of her muscular onstage style, Bassett (acclaimed for her roles in "Malcolm X" and "Boyz 'N the Hood") conveys an intimacy with her role reaching far beyond mere skillful mimicry. Her obvious respect for Turner informs every nuance in this much-deserved breakthrough performance.
Fishburne's volatile performance is necessarily less varied but equally forceful and tragically sympathetic, even though the film's portrayal of Ike is relentlessly unforgiving.
By the time the real Tina Turner is seen performing the title hit at film's end, director Brian Gibson has achieved his overall goal: "What's Love Got To Do With It" may not bring anything new to the biopic genre, but it inspires renewed respect and appreciation for a woman who has earned every break in her amazing career.