Rock confuses film with stand-up

Posted: March 16, 2007

Where do you draw the line between fidelity and adultery? Is it attraction? Flirtation? Emotional dependence? Kissing? Carnal knowledge?

The infidelity spectrum is the serious subject of the new Chris Rock comedy, a movie that provokes as many rueful sighs as it does bruising laughs.

I think I like I Think I Love My Wife, Rock's Americanization of French filmmaker Eric Rohmer's Chloe in the Afternoon. But I'm as ambivalent about the movie as its hero is about trying not to scratch his seven-year itch.

Like Rohmer's 1972 inquiry into how one maintains his morals in a world of temptation, ITILMW is not as concerned with what's happening as it is with what's happening inside the head of its protagonist.

Investment banker Richard Cooper (Rock), married father of two, is bored by marriage to the beautiful but tame Brenda (Gina Torres) and tempted by the sultry and savage Nikki (Kerry Washington).

Rock's film reworks one thesis of his fall-on-the-floor-laughing 2004 HBO special, namely: "You can be married and bored or single and lonely, nobody's happy."

But Rock's film (his second, after Head of State, as writer/director/star), offers that belief without fully supporting it. Rock fails to develop the characters caught in their conjugal and singleton traps. As usual, his observational humor zings (and stings) - but this is a movie, not stand-up.

Shouldn't the comedy come from the situations rather than the commentary? The joke here - that sexual abstinence is, paradoxically, an aphrodisiac - is not set up in a way so there can be a payoff.

Prior to ITILMW, one of the great imponderables of life - up there with what do women want? - was why Chris Tucker was a movie star and Chris Rock was not.

On the basis of the two films Rock has directed himself in, I begin to understand. His stage energy and delivery are unbeatable.

He prowls back and forth setting up a joke and then pounces, going in for the kill and the laugh. Rock the director fails Rock the actor by not letting him establish the foreplay-and-release rhythms he uses so effectively on stage.

Likewise, Rock the screenwriter (who wrote the script with Louis C.K., director of Pootie Tang) fails his other actors. Torres and Washington are lovely as Brenda and Nikki. Yet as written and played, they are little more than a sitcom spouse and a siren. (Uh-huh, that's The Inquirer's Stephen A. Smith as Richard's chum, Allen. He punches his line and punches out.)

Dissecting humor is an operation where the patient usually dies, they say. In ITILMW, somewhere between the laughs and the lust and the unnecessary Viagra joke, I began to think that dissecting marriage might be an even faster way to kill the patient.


I Think I Love My Wife ** (out of four stars)

Produced by Adam Brightman and Lisa Stewart, directed by Chris Rock, written by Rock and Louis C.K., inspired by Eric Rohmer's "Chloe in the Afternoon," photography by William Rexer, music by Marcus Miller, distributed by Fox Searchlight.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.

Richard Cooper. . . Chris Rock

Brenda Cooper. . . Gina Torres

Nikki Tru. . . Kerry Washington

George. . . Steve Buscemi

Jennifer. . . Cassandra Freeman

Parent's guide: R (profanity, sexual content)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

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