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I Think I Love My Wife

Chris Rock's I Think I Love My Wife is an admirably middle-aged movie. Although very funny, it takes an unsparing look at the mature and responsible male ego trying not to be immature and irresponsible and almost losing the battle. Because this is a comedy about a man who loves his children, we know from the start that Nikki (Kerry Washington) is never going to lure Richard (Mr Rock) into outright infidelity, but we also know that Richard is going to feel very guilty about how badly he wants to be bad. Actually, Richard does not want to be bad at all. He just wants to be young (again), and unencumbered.

Richard and his wife, Brenda (Gina Torres), have not been having sex lately. The zing has gone out of their marriage, and they haven't found, or even looked for, a way to refresh their passion. Then along comes Nikki, the former babe of a friend whom Richard hasn't seen in some time. Richard hasn't seen Nikki, either, and he's amazed at how hot she is. It doesn't cross his mind that she's hot because she's on the offensive, her goal to steal him from his wife (or maybe just borrow him for a while). When she needs him to do little things - write a letter of recommendation, check out a studio apartment - he balks, because he's a busy investment banker, but really he's terribly flattered and he ultimately yields. The contraposition of forces is balletic: it is impossible to tell which one is the weaker party. Richard kids himself that he's helping out a friend, but of course he's indulging in the pleasure of playing Galahad. And although he's never quite taken in by his own self-deception, he discovers, when he tries to put up real resistance, that his legs are going to follow Nikki no matter what he wants to do. What saves him is a well-timed glance in the mirror.

Mr Rock and Ms Torres are perfect in their roles. Ms Torres is to be especially commended for slipping in and out of comic mode as easily as her onscreen husband does. I felt that Ms Washington might have been slightly less obvious as a girl who's no good, but there is no doubting her onscreen allure. Steve Buscemi plays an affably philandering colleague, and Edward Herrmann is the boss who knows how to get tough. Welker White and Samantha Evers do truly excellent jobs of playing secretaries who glare with disapproval when Nikki waltzes in and out of the office. In the old days, their respectability would have been offended; nowadays, they're trying to warn Richard not to be an idiot, and when Richard gives not taking Nikki's phone calls a try, one of the secretaries beams.

Mr Rock and his co-writer, Louis C K, have folded a world of black humor into I Think I Love My Wife. I'd like to think that, jokes aside, their film actually represents everyday life among the black middle class. Mr Rock's unprepossessing physic does a lot to suggest that it is. The actor may be fit, but he looks skinny, and when his face closes in anger or discontent, he looks like a kid who has just been bullied: why does the world let this happen to him? In short, the black middle class shown here is a lot like the white middle class. Its relaxations may speak in a somewhat different accent, but they're instantly familiar.

Shot in New York and in Westchester, I Think I Love My Wife shows that Mr Rock has an old-fashioned fondness for busy city streets scenes, especially for ones that neither he nor any of his costars appears. His cinematic eye is remarkably unaffected. Aside from a few slo-mo moments that tell us how Richard is feeling at the moment, the screen is littered with ordinary people and things that go a long way toward suggesting that, even if Mr Rock is a big Hollywood star, he may very well have suffered through Richard's very ordinary problem. Comic filmmaking has become so pat of late that it's refreshing to see a touch of visual unruliness. This isn't a movie in which everything aside from the protagonist's libido is where it belongs. It's too worldly for that. Which isn't a surprise: I Think I Love My Wife is a remake of Eric Rohmer's L'amour l'après-midi. (March 2007)

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