The problem with Chris Rock writing, directing, and starring in a film is that every character winds up talking just like Chris Rock. This means, in “I Think I Love My Wife,” stuffy, middle-aged white men dropping the F-bomb, and everyone delivering comedy-club one-liners about how the black man is being kept down by whitey. I believe it coming from a character played by Rock; I believe it quite a bit less when it’s Steve Buscemi or Edward Herrmann (the grandfather on “Gilmore Girls”).
Rock finds the inspiration for his film (which he co-wrote with comedian Louis C.K.) in Eric Rohmer’s 1972 French adultery dramedy “Chloe in the Afternoon,” updating it for the ’00s and making it about African Americans instead of European Frenchies. Bland characterizations aside, Rock’s version offers a few chuckles but nothing substantive, and it has not a single insight into the mind of the married man that hasn’t already been explored elsewhere.
Rock plays Richard Cooper, a well-to-do Manhattan investment banker with a nice home in the suburbs. His wife, Brenda (Gina Torres), is a schoolteacher, and they have two adorable little girls. Richard and Brenda seldom have sex anymore, however, and as Richard intones in the narration, “The most dangerous time in a marriage is when you both accept that you’re not having sex.”
It is during this perilous time of daydreams and fantasies about women he sees on the street that Richard is visited by Nikki (Kerry Washington), the sultry, slutty, troublemaking ex-girlfriend of an old buddy of his. Nikki smokes cigarettes in a seductive manner and flirts subtly with every man she meets. She is a temptress, pure and simple, and is so bold about it that you’d think she was doing it on purpose, maybe having been sent by Brenda as a test of Richard’s willpower. In fact, that would be a much better movie. Maybe I’ll write that one.
In this one, Nikki is just being Nikki, and as she and Richard start occasionally having lunch together and hanging out after work, they both seem oblivious to how scandalous the whole thing looks. Only after this has gone on for weeks does Richard finally realize that everyone in his office thinks he’s having an affair with Nikki. Well, duh, Richard. You’re a moron.
Chris Rock has proven himself as a sharp social satirist, but when it comes to straight-ahead situational comedy, he’s as lame as most of the “SNL” alumni he graduated with. I was stunned to see him using two ancient, played-out gags in this film, one involving an unfortunate Viagra episode (seriously, Chris? Viagra jokes? Is it 1999 again?), the other concerning a loud pharmacist who embarrasses him when he requests a delicate item. If I were Rock, I’d be embarrassed to include those jokes in my movie.
The film wants to be a sophisticated, grown-up comedy about sophisticated, grown-up problems, but being about a man who considers cheating on his wife doesn’t automatically make a story sophisticated. The story must ring true to viewers and provide some insight into married life. Even as an unmarried man, I can tell that “I Think I Love My Wife” is generic and unsatisfying, loaded with lame comedy and insignificant commentary.
D+ (1 hr., 33 min.; )