Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Chris Rock……….Richard Cooper
Kerry Washington……….Nikki Tru
Gina Torres……….Brenda Cooper
Edward Herrmann……….Mr. Landis
Temptation can sometimes be the ultimate test of a man. The temptation to do something when the presumption against being caught is powerful, especially when it fulfills some sort of need in a man’s life, and must be awfully hard to turn down. And for Richard Cooper (Chris Rock), the temptation to cheat on his wife Brenda (Gina Torres) must be overwhelming. With a limited sex life, Richard’s temptation into the wild world of adultery comes in the form of Nikki (Kerry Washington), a temptress from his past. Seemingly everything that his wife isn’t, Richard is caught between two worlds. On the one hand, the promise of the sort of freedom and promiscuity of his youth is tempting. On the other, he has two children and a wife to take care of in what on the outside appears to be a near perfect (if boring) life.
And the potential for a bland, romantic comedy is very much possible with the sort of material provided. A remake of Chloe in the Afternoon, it would seem almost typical for the quality of the original to be submerged in a sea of mediocrity. But it has plenty of positive things going for it: a good cast overall and a top performance from a great comedian in the lead, for starters, as well as a great script and good story-telling from its director. And it’s all tied in to Rock, who pulls triple duty as the writer, star and director.
As a writer/director, it would be easy for Rock to make the film’s storyline into a more farcical one than it originally was. But Rock has always had a great sense for pop sensibilities as well as being able to navigate the murky waters of racial commentary; in just his second feature as a director he shows the ability to tell a compelling story. It doesn’t hurt that he’s directing a script he wrote, as well as directing himself in a role obviously written with Rock in mind, but Rock knows exactly what he wants out of his script and doesn’t hesitate to bring it out. This is more than a simple comedy about a man in the middle of a crisis of conscience; Rock has more to say than the usual clichÃ©s that would come out in this situation. It starts with how well written his characters are.
Brenda and Nikki aren’t typical characters from a romantic comedy that one could guess their every move. He’s written and shown both of them as strong women with character flaws that are palpable as opposed to farcical. It would be easy to paint one or both as shrews or as less likable, but he doesn’t do that. Instead, Rock gives both of these women the characters that are relatable and likable. Richard’s decision isn’t a comical one because of this; both of these come to represent aspects of his life he wishes he could merge together. Nikki represents the part of his past, before the wife and kids, which he misses because it represents the lack of responsibility he once had. He also tends to think of it in more positive light than it was, glaring over the downsides of single life for the sort of “rock star” life he thinks he used to have. Brenda represents his current life, the happiness of family life toned down in his mind due to the lack of intimacy with his wife. He misses how his wife was before they started a family, not being able to see all the good he has for the lack of that aspect with Brenda. All three perspectives are known and understandable; Nikki doesn’t come off as a home-wrecker, just as someone who knows her time is ending as the best looking woman out there and wants to be happy, for starters. It’s the sign of a good script, despite some of its weaknesses involving some of the more blue-humor aspects of it, in which even the character that would be considered the villain in this particular scenario is presented in a classy manner. Rock doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. Instead he sticks to the type of story he wants to tell in the type of movie he wants to make and I Think I Love My Wife is better off for it.
With all of this good stuff going for it, I Think I Love My Wife also has an added bonus: Chris Rock in perhaps the best performance of his career. Always comedic and entertaining, Rock’s solo efforts as a film star have never been ones that are memorable. From Head of State to Bad Company, Rock has always been a highlight reel of comedic moments but never remembered in the same way that some of his peers like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell are. This is the sort of vehicle designed to give him that kind of swagger for a film; it’s a less comedic and more serious turn for him. Rock is much less of a comedian and more of an actor this time around; there’s plenty of great comedy in the film but that’s not his primary focus. Rock the director wants Rock the actor to bring out a character as opposed to merely “playing himself” like he tends to do.
Generally speaking, actors directing their own written efforts tend to try and focus the film on making their character the only one that’s worthy of mention. Rock finds plenty of ways to involve his cast, as Torres and Washington have plenty of good material to work with, and he manages to use them in just the right amount of doses. Steve Buscemi is perfectly used as Richard’s moral compass of sorts; just when he’s needed he comes in and never overstays his welcome. The focus of the film is on this awkward love triangle, obviously, but Rock is masterful in involving key members of the supporting cast at just the right moments.
It is his best work as an actor, by far, and he shows the potential to be an even better director. Much like several other remakes in the last several years, I Think I Love My Wife is faithful in spirit to the original while taking a different path with the material itself. Chris Rock may be famous actor in part to his abilities as a stand up comic but with more films like this he might finally become the sort of comedian in the vein of an Eddie Murphy. His second directorial effort has staked out its claim as perhaps the best comedy of 2007.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):