Let's admit up front that Chris Rock
can be very funny.
The guy is vicious onstage, marching back and forth as he stares down his crowd. Rock usually grips the microphone like he's afraid someone's going to take it away before he's finished spitting hard truths about relationships, money, and celebrities. Even his television work is solid, from a memorable run on Saturday Night Live to the ongoing sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, which brings nostalgic sentiment to a textbook underdog story.
But it's finally time to admit that Rock's humor does not translate to the big screen. His biggest hits have been animated features (Madagascar) or family films that only utilize his voice (Dr. Dolittle). When the sardonic performer appears in person, we trudge through the aptly titled Bad Company, the foul CB4, and the putrid Pootie Tang. Article continues below
Until now I placed the blame on Rock's collaborators, incorrectly assuming that a steady stream of writers and directors just couldn't figure out how best to use the comedian's natural talents. But the buck stops dead at I Think I Love My Wife, an excruciating dud that Rock co-writes, headlines, and directs into the ground.
Rock borrows his story structure from Eric Rohmer's Chloe in the Afternoon, a somber morality play from 1972 that contains more laughs than Wife. He plays Richard Cooper, a successful investment banker and married father of two who has grown bored by his safe, sturdy routine. Because he and his wife (Gina Torres
) no longer are intimate, the lecherous Richard spends hours fantasizing about the women around him -- every joke in Wife traces back to sex.
Fantasy becomes reality when Richard reunites with Nikki Tru (curvaceous Kerry Washington
), the former flame of a one-time best friend. Before long, Nikki and Richard are spending long afternoons together as she complains about violent ex-boyfriends and he gripes about his predictable life.
The danger of making a movie about a bored character is that you can end up desensitizing your audience with mundane details. Wife buffs the edge right out of Rock's persona, straight-jacketing the easily roused comedian in a conservative, family guy role.
Suffering through Wife actually makes you miserable. Torres either behaves like a warden or an impatient teacher treating Rock like the class clown who has earned another day in detention. Rock's character, Richard, is unlikable, racist, unfaithful, and basically creepy. His love interest, Nikki, is actually worse -- a cancerous leech who would instantly be dropped by any dude who doesn't filter rational thoughts through his pants. Rock's co-writer, Louis C.K. (who directed Pootie Tang), specializes in this misogynistic brand of humor. HBO cancelled his vile sitcom, Lucky Louie, after a handful of dreadful episodes. Consider yourself spared.
Rock is lifeless in front of the camera and unimaginative behind it. Continuity errors are common -- it's bright and sunny when Nikki and Richard enter a Washington, D.C., apartment but pouring rain when they leave. Some scenes experiment with slow-motion, though the effect does nothing to enhance the mood. Rock even provides a narration over his action, which usually punches up flat material. Here, it works as a noose that cuts off blood and oxygen to the movie's tiny brain. Wife gets off one decent line: "You can lose a lot of money chasing women, but you'll never lose women chasing a lot of money." Too bad it is delivered by an underused Edward Herrmann, playing Rock's savvy boss.
If you do in fact love your wife, take her to see something else.