Two films do not a sociological study make. But judging from the roughhouse Chris Rock redux of Eric Rohmer's 1972 film "Chloe in the Afternoon," retitled for U.S. distribution from the original "L'Amour l'après-midi," the problem with the typical American male is a shrewish wife without a sex drive. The male will then fall prey to a wily acquaintance who is not so much a person as a concept: sexual availability, in a red dress that says hiya.
Yet the results fall short of the grown-up comedy about seven-year itches it could've been, asking the Hamlet-like question: to scratch or not to scratch? Rock plays Richard Cooper, the sole African-American at a Manhattan investment firm run by Edward Herrmann, which is about as white as you can get. Buscemi is Richard's adulterous co-worker, dispensing dubious advice on the subject of fidelity. Richard's schoolteacher wife Brenda (Gina Torres) tends to the kids when she's not working, and everything's swell in the suburban Cooper manse, except no one's getting any. This is a dubious change from the Rohmer film: There, relations between husband and wife weren't non-existent, merely routinized and taken for granted.
Commuting to and from New York City by train, Richard can't keep his eyes off the prizes. The chicks are driving him crrrrrazy. (This is another change from the Rohmer's film, which tacitly acknowledged a person's sexual impulses as never very far from any other impulses, but didn't make its protagonist such a panicky horndog.) At the office one day, an old friend drops back into Richard's life after an eight-year gap. She is Nikki Tru (Washington) and she slowly spins her web until the moment Richard finds her on her bed in not much clothing, waiting. Domesticated bordering on emasculated, this organization man can barely resist the magnetic pull of the unknown.
It's an ancient comic premise, centuries older than "A Guide For the Married Man." The best scenes in "I Think I Love My Wife" stay closest to Rock's stand-up material (as well as his co-writer's routines), where the subject of blackness confronted by a societal sea of whiteness consistently pays off in comic terms. Some of the zingers connect, as when Richard, regarding his premarital dating record, answers one charge with: "I go out with one white girl, and all of a sudden I'm Prince?" Other throwaway bits, such as the name of the investment firm--Pupkin & Langford, after the "King of Comedy" characters--are just mild blips in a film coasting on its star's ability to sell an Americanized French souffle.
In "Chloe in the Afternoon" Rohmer made Chloe (the delightful Zouzou) a near-plausible person, a melancholy bohemian as well as a bit of a conniver. Washington's Nikki has plenty of presence and authority, but she's basically a DON'T TRUST HER! DON'T TRUST HER! warning sign with legs. With a richer script, Washington and Torres, stuck in a straitjacket of a role, probably could've eaten Rock alive. You can enjoy the cast in "I Think I Love My Wife," but it's too bad they don't have more notes to play.
Sociological studies aside, we can draw at least one conclusion from these two films telling roughly the same story of a marriage affirmed. If the tempted husband acknowledges, thoughtfully, that "some mystery is essential to people who live side by side," you know you're watching the French original, not the American remake.
'I Think I Love My Wife'
Directed by Chris Rock; screenplay by Rock and Louis C.K., based on Eric Rohmer's film "Chloe in the Afternoon"; cinematography by William Rexer II; edited by Wendy Greene Bricmont; production design by Sharon Lomofsky; music by Marcus Miller; produced by Rock and Lisa Stewart. A TriStar Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Hyde Park Entertainment release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:34. MPAA rating: R (for pervasive language and some sexual content).
Richard Cooper - Chris Rock
Nikki Tru - Kerry Washington
Brenda Cooper - Gina Torres
George - Steve Buscemi
Mr. Landis - Edward Herrmann