WOMEN don't come off terribly well in "I Think I Love My Wife," writer-director Chris Rock's comedic "update" of the 1972 Eric Rohmer drama, "Chloe in the Afternoon." It's not so much misogynistic as it resembles a fossil from another era.
As buttoned-down investment banker Richard Cooper, suffering from an acute case of the seven-year itch, Rock finds himself caught between his perfect if sexless wife, Brenda (Gina Torres), and an amoral temptress named Nikki (Kerry Washington). It's the old madonna/whore dichotomy.
The whole scenario feels dated, and not simply because it's a remake of a 35-year-old French movie. Richard's antecedents go back even further. Like the protagonist of Irwin Shaw's 1930s short story "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," he appreciates the lovely ladies of Manhattan. His daily train ride into the city gives him ample opportunity to ogle and daydream, making him an easy target for the likes of the seductive Nikki, a long-ago crush whom Richard hasn't seen since before he was married.
The usually ranting Rock ratchets his barbs down a notch, limiting his diatribes to voice-overs, to play Richard, who seemingly has everything: Beautiful wife. Check. Adorable kids. Check. Well-appointed home in Westchester County. Check. But he's bored out of his freaking mind. Only this still being a Chris Rock movie, he doesn't say "freaking."
Nikki immediately turns Richard's world upside down by dragging him out of the office at inopportune times to help her sort out the mess that is her life. She's one distressing (and calculating) damsel.
But compared with Brenda, Nikki is a breath of fresh air. Brenda is a schoolteacher who keeps the Cooper household running efficiently while Richard dutifully brings home the bacon, but their marriage has gone stale.
Nikki, on the other hand, is fun. She tosses dollar bills out of Richard's office window to watch passersby fight over them. She takes Richard to the car show and pushes him toward the Porsches (Brenda parks him in a minivan). More dangerously, Nikki oozes sex, teasing Richard to the brink of losing his job and arousing Brenda's suspicions. As he points out to Nikki, he's getting all the aggravation of an affair with none of the pleasure.
Even his commute and office are the stuff of 1950s and '60s novels and romantic comedies. The character played by Steve Buscemi, a colleague of Richard's who has mastered guilt-free philandering, would have been played by Tony Randall four or five decades ago. The depiction of women seems especially antiquated. Aside from Nikki and Brenda, the only other females in the film are the objects of Richard's fantasies, his disapproving secretary and some flirty salesgirls at Saks.
Despite the creakiness of the vehicle, there are some genuinely funny moments and observations. The repressed nature of Richard's character allows Rock and frequent collaborator and co-scripter Louis C.K. to deploy the comic's F-bombs more judiciously. It's also Rock's most mature effort as a screenwriter, leaving behind broader comedy for something more introspective. Now, if he can only capture the sharply personal nature of his TV series "Everybody Hates Chris," he'll be on to something.
"I Think I Love My Wife." MPAA rating: R for pervasive language and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. In general release.