You might think that Eric Rohmer and Chris Rock would be very strange bedfellows, and “I Think I Love My Wife” proves that you’d be right. The picture’s supposedly based on the French director’s 1972 “Chloe in the Afternoon,” but it has none of that film’s moral pretension or cinematic elegance (a different thing from real profundity, which the original lacks). Instead it’s just a tired reworking of “The Seven Year Itch” in which scripter Rock supplies star Rock with unfunny lines and dumb situations that director Rock stages without any style or wit.
Rock narrates much of the picture for us—indeed, it often sounds like an illustrated version of a stand-up routine—and begins by describing the character he plays, a yuppie investment advisor named Richard Cooper, as bored with his marriage to schoolteacher Brenda (Gina Torres), who for some reason has been refusing to have sex with him though they otherwise seem content with their life together and devoted to their two children. “I don’t know how long I can put up with this,” he says—or words to that effect—a sentiment the viewer may soon share.
Richard finds himself drooling inwardly over attractive women as he makes his way to work, where his boss (Edward Herrmann) considers him a top man and his office buddy (Steve Buscemi), a womanizer who’s sure his infidelity is one of the secrets of his successful marriage, depends on him to take the lead in their joint projects. But in the midst of his daydreaming who should show up but gorgeous Nikki (Kerry Washington), the knockout ex-girlfriend of an old buddy of Richard’s, there to ask him for a letter of recommendation (!) but obviously after more than that (though why this looker would be interested in so dreary a fellow is beyond comprehension). And soon she drags him into a series of episodes that make him feel guilty (without actually doing anything) and raise eyebrows among his co-workers. All of them are remarkably unfunny, and one—involving a side-trip to Washington, which not only threatens Richard’s job but results in a beating and a shooting—is positively unpleasant. As if they weren’t bad enough, the domestic business at the Cooper home is pallid as well, including an extended Viagra sequence that isn’t merely crude but—far worse—completely mirthless.
It goes without saying that all the adultery depicted here is strictly of the imaginary variety (as is the humor) and that when things wrap up, Richard and Brenda are in one another’s arms again. What’s really amazing is the way in which that final embrace is expressed—in a musical duet bad enough to set your teeth on edge. And that’s not the movie’s only musical crime: the soundtrack repeats “The Look of Love” so often that it will probably sour your appetite for that old standard forever after.
Rock wasn’t originally supposed to direct “I Think I Love My Wife,” stepping in only after the original helmer dropped out. As with his first effort in that capacity, “Head of State,” he shows no aptitude for the job; overall the picture lacks energy and rhythm (Wendy Greene Bricmont’s flabby editing accentuates the problem), and the flatness affects not only Rock’s performance but Torres’ as well. Even the usually reliable Buscemi is poorly used, and all one notices about Herrmann is how much weight he’s put on since his FDR days. Washington, on the other hand, has verve to burn, but since her motives remain completely opaque—is her goal to seduce Richard, or reinvigorate his marriage?—it’s only her looks that impress. By contrast, the picture doesn’t look particularly good at all: William Rexer II’s cinematography is washed-out and drab.
Chris Rock has done some funny things in the past, but I know I hate “I Think I Love My Wife.”