I Think I Love My Wife (2007): Chris Rock’s Comedy

A bland, tedious Chris Rock sounds like a contradiction in terms when describing the usually wild and energetic comedian. But that’s precisely what we get in “I Think I Love My Wife,” a film that Rock directed, co-produced, co-wrote, and stars in.
Grade: C (*1/2* out of *****)
Which shows that movie stars are often their worst enemies. There’s little evidence here of the wit, energy, and fast tongue of Rock in his TV show “Everybody Hates Chris” and other comedies.

Rock might have chosen the wrong role model, for he follows in the footsteps of other comedians who have tried to stretch beyond their screen persona and proven skills, like Jim Carrey, currently on view in a dramatic role in the senseless psychological thriller “The Number 23.”

Moreover, Rock may be too young to play a married businessman with children who goes through mid-life crisis and menopause that freezes him completely. It’s the kind of role that Dudley Moore played in Blake Edwards’ “10,” lusting after Bo Derek, or Gene Wilder played in “The Woman in Red” (also a remake of a French farce, “Pardon mon affair”), lusting after the much younger Kelly LeBrock.

In “I Think,” Rock plays Richard Cooper, a straight (in both senses of the term) investment banker, stuck in a sexless (but happy) marriage, unable to make any move with a gorgeous fantasy girl.

Rock says he was inspired by the French maestro Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales, “Chloe in the Afternoon,” which was made 35 years ago. But except for the general premise, Rock’s film lacks the wit, subtlety, and charm of the Rohmer fable, which is not only very French but very much a product of its times.

For inexplicable reasons, Cooper’s wife Brenda (Gina Torres) refuses to have sex with him; the couple is, in fact, in therapy. What’s a bourgeois guilt-ridden man to do He daydreams about other women, with no intention or guts to follow through on any of his fantasies.

Things begin to change, when Nikki (Kerry Washington), a former girlfriend of a buddy from the past, stops by Richard’s office. The text never bothers to establish what kind of a “friend” Nikki is, and how well the two knew each other. We close one eye (this is after all an American romantic comedy), hoping for some fun and humor.

Nikki appears at Richard’s office at all hours of the day in sexy outfits that reveal a shapely bodyand lusty desire. Richard begins to respond and neglect his job. He misses appointments with clients and important conferences with associates, while Nikki leads him around town with a series of bizarre requests.

One night, Nikki persuades Richard to meet her at a nightclub, but she never shows up. Unfazed, Richard gets stoned with some salesgirls. Then, against his better judgment, Nikki forces him to fly with her to Washington D.C. to get her stuff out of an apartment she used to share with a boyfriend. The boyfriend comes home unexpectedly–and Richard gets beaten. The police arrive, but Richard and Nikki escape the scene smoothly and quickly (so much for the efficiency of D.C. Police).

The whole foundation of the movie is slender and fraudulent. It’s meant to be a comedy about a man with the “perfect marriage.” Wife Brenda is beautiful, intelligent, and a fantastic mother to his children. There’s just one “little” problem: He’s bored out of his suburban businessman’s mind. The story posits Richard as a man who has it allexcept he doesn’t have it all. Question is, just how much is Richard willing to risk when temptation comes after him

If “I Think I love My Wife” was funny, the above complaints about lack of narrative logic would not have mattered. But it is not, and so we keep waiting for something funny–or anything– to happen, only to realize that the premise is just not solid enough for the construction of a whole movie, short as it is.

After a while, we are not even intrigued by the prospects of whether or not Richard and Nikki will get into the sack, which is the central–and onlyquestion the would-be comedy posits.

Richard seems to be terrified of all women, including his secretary; he tiptoes around the older, suspicious woman. In another unbelievable scene, Richard bribes a restaurant maitre d’ to remove from his station a beautiful waitress because the sight is too distracting. It doesn’t help that Rock is using voice-over narration. The narration doesn’t reveal anything beyond what we see, and thus ends up being yet another distancing device.

The family and the courtship sequences are staged in a similarly bland manner. What a missed opportunity to poke fun at the rising black middle-class and its pretentious lifestyle. Hence, the scenes in which Richard and Brenda’s argue about using the “N word,” or complain about whites in front of their kids, seem trivial and also fall flat.

All the film’s characters are one-dimensional. Take, Richard’s wife, Brenda. She seems to love Richard–she certainly fights to keep him–yet they have no sex. What does Brenda get out of the marriage

Nikki is depicted as just a single-minded woman as Richard is as a man. At first, this bold bombshell seems to have the power to blow Richard’s formerly routine life right out of the water. But gradually a different suspicion sneaks in. Is Nikki out to prove that all men could be seduced under the right circumstances Misconceived, Nikki comes across more as an abstract concept–“The Seductress,” or “The Other Woman”–than as flesh-and-blood character.

Rock’s office workers are narrowly defined, too. Indie icon Steve Buscemi plays George, a womanizing married man, who continues to fool around despite guilty conscience, and vet Edward Herrmann is cast as Richard’s stuffy boss. Both actors are vastly underused.

This being a second directorial effort (the first was the lukewarm “Head of State”), “I Think” doesn’t show much progress as a filmmaker as far as staging, pacing, and visuals are concerned. End result is a low-key movie that drags and is pedestrian looking despite on-location shooting in New York.

Credits

Running time: 94 minutes

Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight and UTV Motion Pictures present a Zahrlo production

Director: Chris Rock
Screenplay: Chris Rock and Louis C.K.; based on a film by Eric Rohmer
Producers: Chris Rock, Lisa Stewart
Executive producers: Adam Brightman, Ronnie Screwvala
Director of photography: William Rexer II
Production designer: Sharon Lomofsky
Music: Marcus Miller
Co-producer: Zarina Screwvala
Costume designer: Suzanne McCabe
Editor: Wendy Greene Bricmont.

Cast

Richard (Chris Rock)
Nikki (Kerry Washington)
Brenda (Gina Torres)
George (Steve Buscemi)
Mr. Landis (Edward Herrmann)
Mary (Welker White)