In 'Wife,' Rock wanders but he's no Rohmer

Posted: March 16, 2007

In his stand-up days, Chris Rock had a side-splitting riff about why men cheat on women like Christie Brinkley or Jennifer Aniston.

You can see the most beautiful woman in the world walking down the street, he'd say, and know that somewhere, there's a guy who's tired of sleeping with her.

As Rock astutely noted, men crave novelty as much (or more) than beauty. The irony, he concluded, is that while men are hardwired to cheat, they are also oafishly unskilled at deception, and so they are just as hardwired to get caught.

On the surface, "I Think I Love My Wife" (written and directed by Rock) seems to be adapted from that classic routine. Rock stars as Richard, an accountant with two lovely children and a lovely wife (Gina Torres) with an expired libido.

Richard is so eager to reinvigorate their sex life that he's agreed to enter the red tent of marriage counseling, during which his wife and female therapist explain that it's all his fault.

At just this vulnerable moment Richard is set upon by a gorgeous girl (Kerry Washington) from his single, party days - she makes it plain that she wants to seduce him.

"I Think I Love My Wife," though, is not intended as a study in male infidelity. Rock's character spends most of his time fending off the advances of the vixenish Washington, whose wantonness never seems more than a plot device.

"Wife" turns out to be a square-ish movie about a guy whose conscience makes the affair impossible. And its source is not Rock's own material - it's actually taken from a French New Wave movie called "Chloe in the Afternoon," whose director, Eric Rohmer, had a knack for character that eludes Rock. Rohmer also possessed a famous ability to put on film precisely what men find beguiling about women.

Washington is sexy, certainly, but efforts to make her character seem cool or appealingly dangerous backfire - in one key scene, she throws dollar bills from a skyscraper to watch people in the street fight over money. Rock's character stares with a look of fascination and admiration. The viewer is more likely to be put off or repulsed.

And, in the end, disappointed that Rock has once again been unable to find the right vehicle for the comic persona that works so well on stage. *

Produced by Chris Rock, Lisa Stewart, directed by Chris Rock, written by Chris Rock, Louis C.K., music by Marcus Miller, distributed by Fox Searchlight.

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