Perhaps only Chris Rock could create a potty-mouth sermon about the virtues of family values and the dangers of Viagra.
“I Think I Love My Wife,” an unpleasantly schizoid new comedy which he directed and co-wrote (with Louis C.K.), may include plenty of raw R-rated language, but the movie keeps insisting that it’s an old-fashioned endorsement of monogamy and the joys of child-rearing.
Rock plays Richard, a New York investment banker who is living the perfect life, with a busy wife (Gina Torres) and two cute children, when he suddenly realizes that he’s bored with the status quo. He constantly fantasizes about sleeping with other women, and he’s so obsessed/threatened by large breasts that he accuses a classy restaurant of hiring waitresses who want to flaunt them, Hooters-style.
Then Nikki (Kerry Washington), a seductive gold digger from his past, suddenly turns up and tempts him. At first they spend their time together innocently, as he advises her on how to handle her love life and she teaches him the “fish feeding” game: throwing dollar bills out the window to see which desperate people will pick them up.
But as Richard spends more time with this sexy sprite, missing work and cell-phone calls, trying the patience of his wife and his astonishingly indulgent boss (Edward Herrmann), the movie seems determined to drive Richard and Nikki into sharing a bed.
The script is based on Eric Rohmer’s 1972 French film, “Chloe in the Afternoon,” which starred Bernard Verley as the frustrated family man and Zouzou as the bohemian home-wrecker. The late critic, Pauline Kael, called Rohmer “a specialist in the eroticism of non-sexual affairs,” but she considered “Chloe” so minor that “it practically evaporates a half hour after it’s over.”
“I Think I Love My Wife” achieves a similar effect, though for different reasons. The more Richard hangs out with Nikki, the more tedious he seems — and the more complicated and enigmatic she becomes. Instead of pursuing the character who inspires the most questions about motivation and manner of operation, Rock’s movie focuses on the less interesting Richard.
The result is less like “Chloe” and more like a platonic variation on “Fatal Attraction,” in which the Michael Douglas character doesn’t sleep with Glenn Close but suffers the consequences anyway. As Richard points out, he gets all the guilt and none of the pleasure.
Directing for the second time (2003’s “Head of State” marked his debut), Rock often seems at his wittiest when he’s dealing with peripheral matters, such as Richard’s awareness that he’s almost become the token African-American in his office. The comic high points are a couple of episodes demonstrating the intricacies of elevator etiquette, and they have almost no connection to the plot.
A first-rate cast, including Steve Buscemi as Richard’s mentor and partner, is mostly ignored. Only Washington makes a vivid impression, chain-smoking “diet cigarettes” so she can lose weight, turning up at Richard’s office at inconvenient moments and bulldozing him into skipping out on his job. She’s a free spirit, all right, leaving a trail of scared and/or homicidal boyfriends behind her.