Judge Bill Gibron has no such personal quandaries about the state of his matrimonial relationship, but he does wish he could divorce himself from the experience of watching this under-baked Chris Rock effort.
In marriage, no one can hear you scream.
Richard Cooper (Chris Rock, Head of State) is just a regular guy. He works as a banker in Manhattan. He has a school teacher wife named Brenda (Gina Torres, Serenity) and two adorable kids. He lives in the suburbs and spends time with his close friends. There's just one problem: Richard no longer has sex with his spouse. It's a mutual thing—she says "Hell no!" and he has no choice but to accept it. The resulting rift has our harried husband fantasizing about every girl he meets. Lucky for his relationship, Richard is unable to act on any of his impulses—until now. When old gal pal Nikki Tru (Kerry Washington, Little Man) shows up at his office, looking for help in restarting her life, a whole sky full of former fireworks is ignited. Richard enjoys Nikki's company. She's fun. She lets him do what he wants. She praises his strength and relies on his guidance. Of course, she's constantly calling and appearing at his place of work, which has the staff in a scandalous uproar. They think something is going on between the two, especially corporate cad George (Steve Buscemi, Reservoir Dogs), who is an expert at adultery. At first, Richard is shocked by all the scuttlebutt. But when he finally allows himself to consider the option, he's a little more than intrigued. After all, he may privately muse, "I Think I Love My Wife," but Nikki provides a temptation that may be too hard to pass up.
You know, Chris Rock is a funny guy. Strike that; he is absolutely hilarious. One of the last great stand-ups to maintain his material through the irony strewn shockwaves of the past 20 years, he can quip with Bob Costas on a panel discussion of baseball and bring the house down. Brilliant without baffling his audience, street without reverting to straight blue blasts, he remains immensely talented and quite influential. So here's a particular pickle for you: why does his latest comedic effort, the awkwardly titled I Think I Love My Wife, suck so hard? How can someone who improvises and riffs with such undeniable skill turn into a lumbering lox onscreen? One might be tempted to blame the director, but Rock is sitting in that chair as well. And if you want to criticize the screenplay, you'll have to take on both the star and his writing partner Louis C.K. Of course, the most shocking thing about this film, aside from its disconcerting lack of laughs, is the fact that it's actually based on the last of Eric Rohmer's six moral tales, L'Amour l"après-midi, otherwise known as Chloe in the Afternoon. How a French ethicist with a focus on finding the keys to man's personal dilemmas matches up with an African-American satirist who effectively undermines all elements of society should make for an interesting battle of wits. Sadly, I Think I Love My Wife sinks under the weight of Rock's many creative clunkers.
First and foremost is his decision to turn Nikki, the alluring Miss who messes up Rock's button-down businessman mind, into the cinematic equivalent of Roboho. Indeed, the reference to TMZ's putdown of Beyoncé is appropriate here, since Kerry Washington's character is constantly called out for being materialistic, vain, shallow, greedy, vacillating, selfish, flirtatious, phony, trifling, clingy, needy, and personally inappropriate. Every gal in Richard's secretarial pool thinks she's a slut, and even the lowlife lothario played by Steve Buscemi (the guy carries Viagra in his glove compartment) thinks she's trash. As a matter of fact, Rock does such a good job of undermining this woman's character that, whenever she appears on screen, we want to reach out and wipe that "I'm super hot" smirk off her face. It's not Washington's fault. She has nothing to work with here. Even worse is the predicament of Gina Torres' sensible shrew Brenda. The kind of stereotypical spouse who bosses her husband around and denies his desires for sex, she comes across as militant, mean-spirited, and manipulative. Without any redeeming feminine factors, Rock forces the film to rely on the inherent nature of the relationships (with Nikki, past friendship; with Brenda, current companionship). It's a dumb-ass dog that just won't hunt.
Even worse, Rock regresses in his turn as Richard. It's obvious he's aiming for nerdy nebbish, a "Woody from the hoody" kind of ideal. We hear about a past loaded with partying, playing, and pus-personal relations, but his current persona is so blank he gives well-to-do dorks a bad name. The chief crime committed here—and it's a universal one that affects all involved—is the lack of clearly defined motivation. We understand that Rock's character is hornier than Britney on a bus with a boy band, but he also constantly claims a love of his job, his kids, and his current personal standing. So if he's led by his wiener, what does his faltering action say about his "potency." Rock frequently tests our patience with his up-in-the-air approach to life. His wife hounds him? He shrinks. Nikki uses him like a well-trained tool. He easily acquiesces. Bosses belittle him, referring to his efforts in the company as a quarter compared to an entire boardroom tabletop? "Yes," he whispers. We keep waiting for the moment when the stand-up's psychotic wit comes pouring out, a chance to see him channel the humor histrionics that have made him a superstar. There is a brief segment where, in order to force a fight, he goes ballistic over a baked chicken, but that's about it. Indeed, Rock and co-writer C.K. decided that the f-bomb is the easiest way to satisfy the demographic. Inserted randomly and frequently, it's the kind of considered crudeness that undermines any realism or reaction.
In the end, I Think I Love My Wife suffers from mixed ambitions laced with unrealistic expectations. When Rock takes the concert stage, he owns the audience. He never underestimates or kowtows to them. Instead, he sets the parameters and forces them to follow suit. The result is a sympathetic synergy where even the weakest material flies with satiric fury. Here, Rock is trying to fit his fascinating persona into a formulaic film ideal. He never seems like a human being, and lets all the other actors revert to mere cogs in a manipulative, moronic machine. And let's not get started on the surreal, R Kelly-like ending where a reconciled couple croons to each other in overwrought, soul-bearing screeches. So much of I Think I Love My Wife misses the mark that you spend more time contemplating the creative process—who thought this was funny/clever/heartfelt, and why?—than getting involved with the individuals onscreen.
What's missing here, besides a far more biting screenplay, is the release. Rock and company will wind things up so tightly, taking each and every one of their circumstances to the very brink of narrative breakability, and then fail to valve off the steam. It's like a 90-minute exercise in comedus interruptus. Unlike other romantic retreads where couples complain and contradict each other, only to recognize that they can't exist alone, Chris Rock wants to tap into a specific social market, losing the angry black man reputation, if just for a single feature. This, sadly, was not the opportunity to leave his popular past behind.
Once again failing to provide this critic with a complete retail version of the title, the discussion of the tech specs offered by Fox is to be taken with a massive grain of salt. Absent from this review will be any discussion of the deleted scenes, the extended material, the bloopers, and the Fox Movie Channel feature Casting Session. All this preview copy contained was a commentary by Rock, a Making-Of featurette, and some trailers. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image looked fine, even though it was frequently marred by a corporate watermark. In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound was acceptable, especially during the moments of slick soul music and classic R&B. A little Internet research indicates that there may be a full-screen version of the film incorporated into the flip disc designs, and some of the material mentioned may be expanded or deleted from the final package. For anyone interested in the added context or home theater issues offered by this DVD, this discussion will be pointless. Sadly, it is all the site had to work with.
It's the exact opposite with Rock. He has a bottomless pit of potential to pull from, a talent pool that appears to be constantly replenishing itself. Why I Think I Love My Wife doesn't reflect his amazing ability is food for cinematic thought. After mulling it over for a while, you'll be as confused as the characters here. Guilty.
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• Audio Commentary by Chris Rock
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