Chris Rock directs, co-writes, co-produces and stars in his latest film. More significantly, he attempts to make his Steve Martin move. With I Think I Love My Wife, the stand-up superstar endeavors to reinvent himself as a sophisticated auteur by reinterpreting Eric Rohmer's Chloe in the Afternoon. You know, more or less the way Martin updated Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac with Roxanne. Nothing like a classy project to prove the class clown has grown up.
The motivation behind the two projects may be pretty much the same, but the end results could hardly be more different. Where Martin's film revealed an artist fully evolved to a higher level, Rock's presents us with one still taking his first tentative baby steps in that direction.
The comic plays a successful Manhattan investment banker who appears to have it all. Richard Cooper has a beautiful, intelligent wife (Gina Torres). He has two healthy young kids. He has an Architectural Digest spread of a home in the suburbs. What Richard Cooper doesn't have, and hasn't been having for quite some time, is sex.
Rock reveals his character's private reflections in a running voice-over. By means of this device, we learn that the couple has succumbed to several pitfalls of married life: They've lost their original sizzle, they socialize exclusively with other married couples and, on those occasions, converse exclusively about their children. After seven years of marriage, the man who has almost everything proclaims, "I am so fucking bored."
In point of fact, the premise of I Think I Love My Wife is about the only thing the film has in common with Chloe in the Afternoon. The picture's hero goes through his life fantasizing about the women he sees in the course of his day; he has no intention of acting on these fantasies;. A least not until the ex-girlfriend (Kerry Washington) of an old college chum appears in his office one day, setting in motion a chain of events that has less in common with French new-wave cinema than with your typical American sitcom.
At the coaxing of his curvaceous new cohort, the henpecked husband gets sucked into a succession of ever less believable misadventures. One or two of Rock's observations are amusing, and a moment here and there points to his promise as a more mature filmmaker. For the most part, though, the movie's 90 minutes strain credibility to the breaking point, and manage to steer clear of anything approaching cutting-edge humor.
As Cooper's professional life and marriage are placed in increasing peril by his fixation and flirtation, the audience clearly is supposed to wonder - perhaps even worry - about the possibility that he'll throw it all away for a roll in the hay. Anyone who doesn't see the film's safe, family-friendly final act coming, though, has some serious TV viewing to catch up on. I've seen episodes of "According to Jim" that were less predictable.
In the end, then, there's minimal reason to rush out for this one. If you're looking for Rock's trademark smart-ass wit, you'll want to look elsewhere. Likewise when it comes to a movie with something fresh to say about the balancing act that is marriage. The filmmaker is a work in progress, to be sure. More than anything, though, his latest reveals just how much progress there is to go.