In his underrated, split-personality comedy "Melinda and Melinda," Woody Allen took the outline of a dinner party story and re-imagined it twice, as a frothy farce and a florid melodrama.
Chris Rock has done something of the same with one of Eric Rohmer's "Six Moral Tales," the 1972 art house hit "Chloe in the Afternoon," broadening the contours of that dryly witty French drama of almost-adultery to the needs of his take-no-prisoners comic style. You can still see a semblance of the source material in there, but it's like trying to make out the details of an antique Piaget watch that's been fossilized inside a two-ton block of ice.
In "I Think I Love My Wife," Rock plays Richard Cooper, a New York investment banker with a serious case of seven-year itch. He loves his wife Brenda (Gina Torres), or at least he did in their frisky early days. Now that their defunct sex life has become fodder for a marriage counselor, he is left to salacious commuter-train fantasies and living vicariously through the adulterous adventures of his long-married colleague George (Steve Buscemi).
Enter Nikki (Kerry Washington), an old flame from his bachelor days who shows up at his office tarted up in a she's-gotta-have-it seduction kit. Nikki senses that Richard is ripe for a fling, and proceeds to show up daily at his office in a systematic effort to wear down his defenses. Richard is interested, but wary; despite her continued stratagems (she pulls him out of work to do lunches, check out a vacant apartment she's considering, retrieve some clothes from the loft of an old boyfriend), he remains dutifully faithful.
Though Richard flirts with infidelity, the only thing truly promiscuous about "I Think I Love My Wife" is its tone, which rockets between bland domestic comedy, tentative social satire (the isolation of a black guy in a white, white-collar world) and mean-spirited dialogue that conceals a hotbed of racial and sexual conflict (Richard reserves his leering for the black women on his commuter train and his hostilities for the white women).
The sundry hurdles of trying to switch cultural sensibilities from 1970s Paris to 2007 New York can be observed in something as seemingly minute as Richard's female administrative assistants: They are portrayed by Rohmer as being amused by their boss' ostensible affair and by Rock as frozen with disapproval. Rock's depiction of women as either pouting spoilsports, nagging, frigid soccer moms or man-eating vixens harkens back to the pre-feminist '60s, when comedies like "How to Murder Your Wife" and a "A Guide for the Married Man" were considered the last word in sophistication. As they say in France, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Only it sounds better in French.