Review: I Think I Love My Wife

Ah, Chris Rock and Eric Rohmer, the two masters together at last. Wait a minute, Rock and Rohmer? If the combination sounds strange to you, "I Think I Love My Wife" (IMDb listing) doesn't disagree.

Richard (Chris Rock) is man with a great job, two beautiful children, and a wife (Gina Torres) who has long ago stopped paying sexual attention to him. Bored with his marriage, Richard finds himself vulnerable to the charms of Nikki (Kerry Washington), an old acquaintance who has floated back into his life. Richard embraces Nikki's advances under the guise that they're "friends," but when the reality of the potential infidelity hits him at home, Richard must confront his impulses and bad decisions.

French New Wave director Rohmer defined his career making movies with conflicted, morally shaky men, and it's interesting to report that Chris Rock has managed to maintain some of that bastard integrity for his film. Co-writing (with Louis C.K.) and directing "Wife," Rock is looking for a break from the broad comedies he's normally associated with, including his last directorial effort, the amusing 2003 political lampoon, "Head of State."

By writing himself the sad sack role of Richard, Rock is sneaking in a way to expand his career. "Wife" is a comedy, but the elements of drama and other shades of gray are shoveled into the film to lend it some weight beyond the lust for the laugh. I applaud Rock for challenging himself with the picture, but that doesn't mean it clicks.

Updating Rohmer's 1972 film "Chloe in the Afternoon," Rock has cherry-picked all the ideas of infidelity and consequence but he also lubes up the project with his own sense of humor. "Wife" is profane, awkward, and sprinkled with a strange racial subtext; basically the cinematic equivalent of Rock himself.

Rock doesn't know how to direct this material, and "Wife" can be an erratic moviegoing experience due to his hesitation. One minute the film has some comically dark, yet semi-profound ideas to share on the idea of marriage and the marital neutering of the American male. The next minute, "Wife" is a study in the mine field of fidelity, and the red hot lure of an alpha sexual partner. And in the moments where the picture is least attentive, gags are tossed in that could come from any one of Rock's comedy albums.

"Wife" is disjointed (and as much as I utterly adore Rock, I'll be the first to admit he can't act), but it's not without certain charms. Richard's claustrophobia is cleanly drawn, even if Torres' portrayal as the dominant wife feels pushed to comic ball-breaking extremes. I also enjoyed the low-tech feel of the film; it pushes Rock the director to try a slightly less obvious take on certain comedy premises, though the broad stuff is here, no doubt. There's even an extended Viagra gag that seems pulled from a Farrelly Brothers film.

Not enough can be said about Washington's tempting turn as Nikki. A manipulative creature of haute couture lust, Rock allows the actress moments of impossible allure and humanity, though that's a character trait that Rock only successfully pans for when he has to disrobe the actress. For "Wife" to have any sort of rationality to it, the femme fatale needs to be clearly understood as the very tide that keeps Richard from swimming to safety. Washington achieves this task, while also making her tauntingly romantic scenes with Rock authentic in their spontaneity.

Unlike Rohmer, Rock is more interested in a happier ending of sorts, but he leaves the relationships in a semi-unfinished state. Had the film contained more layering up to this point, it wouldn't feel as blindsiding as it actually does. Rock sets up "I Think I Love My Wife" as something much more dangerous and insightful than it ends up being, and he seems unwilling to settle on a tone that would allow the film a chance to relax and gel in its own way.

Filmfodder Grade: C+