Who Do You Love? Goes from Awful to Insufferable
The life and times of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess, and the outsize personalities of his signees—Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry—would make a terrific movie. In fact, it did, and it was called Cadillac Records. Well, who wants leftovers? There was obvious wrangling over rights between the dueling Chess biopics: Cadillac got Chuck, and Who Do You Love? got Bo. Etta James is herein rechristened "Ivy Mills" (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and cruelly dispatched with a plot-handy heroin overdose. Chess, played by Alessandro Nivola, is now a far more central figure—or does everyone else just seem more marginal?—while Love?'s restoration of redundant brother/partner Phil Chess shows exactly why he was written out of Cadillac. Nivola plays Chess's self-assurance as off-putting clamminess, and a running gag that requires him to greet everyone as "Motherfucker"—supposedly, this endlessly bemuses black musicians and lets them know he's not like other white guys—goes from awful to insufferable. Also free with its facts, Cadillac understood the complex tangle of personal, racial, and familial loyalties that were behind putting electric blues on wax. Who Do You Love? solves segregation with a harmonica duet, suggesting its proclivity for hot air.
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