21 March 2007

I THINK I DO NOT LOVE THIS MOVIE

In I Think I Love My Wife, director Chris Rock's remake of a film by Eric Rohmer-

...

I'm very sorry, I appear to have thrown up in my mouth a little bit.

Oh, I kid Rock, the film's not all that terrible. And it's also not all that good. Which still puts it pretty far ahead of the curve compared to 300 and Dead Silence and most of whatever else is playing in a theater near you.

Basically, it's exactly what it looked like from the trailer, the title and the premise: a roly-poly CBS sitcom, only with more liberal use of the word "fuck." And the occasional surprisingly sharp nugget of observation about race in America, such as one absolute gem of a scene (the only one in the movie) in which Rock's Richard Cooper is the only black man in an elevator full of white men, and the only person genuinely nervous when a second black man enters humming a song about "killing the crackers."

Honestly, though, most of the racial humor is smeared thinly on top of the scenario, in which Rock and the vastly under-appreciated Gina Torres are just about the only black couple in their Westchester neighborhood and Rock is the single black businessman at a vast investment firm. The first of these tidbits is mostly used for a series of cheap gags about how the Coopers need more black friends, and the second is basically ignored. The good bits of satire - and they are decent enough in number, if not exactly overwhelming - tend to be wedged in without any particular reason for being beyond "that's Chris Rock's schtick," but they are after all the good bits, and I am perfectly willing to let such things slide.

Most of the film's comic bent is unhappily aimed at suburban ennui, as it manifests itself in the Coopers' sexless marriage and Rock's passionate flirtation with the overly-named Nikki Tru, played by the sometimes-fantastic Kerry Washington, who gets to have a lot of fun vamping without the bother of playing an actual character. Indeed, actual characters are in pretty short supply 'round these parts, especially in the case of the women, who are kind of like cardboard, only without the fantastic degree of mystery that a really great sheet of cardboard can sometimes possess. Certainly, writers Rock and Louis C.K. are very much men, and very much unaware of what women are like.

I must confess my lack of due diligence; I have not seen Rohmer's 1972 film Chloe in the Afternoon, upon which I Think I Love My Wife is based. I suspect, however, that the French film similarly lacks any real plot and similarly concerns itself with the shallow needs of the petite bourgeoisie. I suspect as well that it lacks Viagra jokes. And here we begin to see what drives I Think I Love My Wife onto the shallows of Mediocre Comedy Atoll. It's about the needs, both just and narcissistic, of the common suburbanite, and yet it's full of the kind of stoopid humor that stems from the assumption that we're all thirteen-year-olds who believe that when a beautiful woman says "fuck" a lot, well that is comic gold.

And then there's the somewhat bigger fact that a lot of it is just not funny. In many scenes there is not a single gag or laugh line, just Rock prodding the "story" forward. In other places, we go five minutes in which all of the humor is hoary mirthless battle of the sexes boilerplate. It's obvious what's going on: Rock thinks he has one hell of a great exploration of the differences between men and women, and so he wants to make an anti-comedy in the style of e.g. Manhattan. I am so unhappy that I referenced Woody Allen.

It was inevitable, though, because I Think I Love My Wife is such an Allen-lite experience. After all, the writer is the director is the star, and the film is poorly directed. The primary difference being that Rock is an actively poor director, whereas Allen is fairly upfront about how his direction is strictly utilitarian, so that nobody else can ruin his screenplays. And he still makes the occasional Deconstructing Harry or Match Point.* Rock's last film was Man of the People.

Not that there aren't directorial flourishes, because there are many: the voice-over, the dream sequences, the goddamn weird musical finale that makes me half wonder if I was on a bad acid trip. It's like he watched a lot of New Wave films in preparation for remaking Rohmer, but didn't have any idea what anything meant. Actually, this makes him the anti-Allen, whose style has always been very precise and minimal.

And you know, for all that, it's mostly harmless. There's so much that's bad, insultingly bad, or immorally bad right now, that an unfunny comedy with some good setpieces is pretty hard to complain about. Loudly.

5/10

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