MOVIE REVIEW- Rock-y marriage: Comedian's latest too true for comedy

Chris Rock is a hilarious stand-up comic, a decent actor in other people's movies (Nurse Betty, Dogma); and if he's not an all-around nice guy, he sure can fake it in interviews.

What he really shouldn't do is direct– or worse yet, write and direct. He showed this in Head of State and, despite considerable improvement, confirms it in I Think I Love My Wife.

Adapting the script with Louis C.K. from Eric Rohmer's 1972 confection Chloe in the Afternoon, dumbing down the arthouse hit for American audiences, Rock might have gotten fresh mileage out of the tired plot about a married person tempted by an available woman if he'd cast Ellen DeGeneres in the lead. But of course it's a vehicle for Rock, and all the contemporary tweaks can't drown out the creaking noises.

The only black investment banker in his Manhattan firm, Richard Cooper (Rock) has been married seven years to Brenda (Gina Torres). They have a son and a daughter but they don't have sex– Brenda's choice, not Richard's. The couples therapist they're seeing isn't doing them any good, and Richard is painfully aware of all the beautiful women out there.

His problem, that he can't stand up to women, becomes more obvious when Nikki Tru (Kerry Washington– who knew she was so hot?!!!) comes back into his life. She used to date his best friend, and he was crazy about her but couldn't do anything about it.

Now Nikki insinuates herself into Richard's life, jeopardizing his job by calling, dropping by and dragging him off on all sorts of errands. Richard's co-worker George (Steve Buscemi, odd casting that works) has a history of screwing around without getting involved. Richard gets involved without screwing around, even though Nikki flirts blatantly and constantly. What's a guy to do, even a nice guy like Richard?

I Think I Love My Wife is pro-marriage, but it may do too good a job of portraying the cracks in this particular union to make its point. I grew up watching my parents make each other miserable until death did them part, and while some people today treat the institution too frivolously there are others who should know when to cut their losses.

If Brenda can't see she's responsible for Richard's seven-year itch, she needs an optometrist and he needs a divorce lawyer. This isn't something that will work itself out.

Most movies nowadays make an effort to keep race from being an issue, but Rock is in-your-face about it. While Richard and Brenda freely use four-letter words at home (and he uses them gratuitously in his narration), at her insistence they spell out w-h-i-t-e and b-l-a-c-k in front of the children. Nikki says Richard's taste in music indicates he has "nigger ears" and makes frequent references to Brenda as his "black wife."

Another retro touch that indicates this screenplay may have sat around too long is that when three or more people get together they have to talk about Michael Jackson.

The trailer gave fair warning that I Think I Love My Wife wouldn't be a laugh riot, but the movie itself seems to think it's much funnier than it is. Rock probably has some good dramatic roles in him if he decides to go that way, but it's sad to see him not being funny in a comedy.

At least I think I Think I Love My Wife is a comedy. It looks like a comedy, and the actors read their lines with comic inflections, but maybe the situation feels too true to be funny.