'I Think I Love My Wife'

Comedian Chris Rock expected some criticism for his new movie, “I Think I Love My Wife,” in which he plays a black family man living in white suburban Westchester and working in an even whiter Manhattan investment banking firm. Many critics say he’s gone soft, and fans worry that he’s lost his edge.

But Rock is OK with that.

“I hope I get softer over the years,” Rock said. “I was never angry. I was only edgy compared to other things. I was always just me. I was only edgy because you watched Paul Reiser before me. But he’s not edgy, he’s just Paul. And I’m not edgy, I’m just Chris.”

What the comedian might not have expected was his latest film’s mixed reviews and poor opening weekend upon its release last Friday. It tanked, earning only $5.7 million in a week where the Sandra Bullock time warp thriller “Premonition” was the biggest new release (that movie finished third behind “300” and “Wild Hogs,” with about $18 million in ticket sales).

“It’s like my stand-up,” Rock said. “Some jokes you love, some jokes you’re like, ‘Fuck him.’ I wanted that type of movie experience. I want people arguing when it’s over. There’s things in it that didn’t test well, that I just kept in because I thought it was a better movie.”

The movie’s rating at RottenTomatoes.com is holding at a pathetic 18 percent, with reviews as cruel as they are cliché: Lou Lumenick of the New York Post writes that the film is nothing more than “an exercise in misogynistic tedium,” while down at the Miami Herald, Connie Ogle considers the film “as entertaining as reading someone else’s divorce settlement.”

Rock knows that past films, such as “Down to Earth” and “Head of State,” have met with even harsher reviews, but their box office receipts likely soothed the sticks and stones thrown at them.

“Going into this movie I absolutely was not thinking of a box office number,” he said. “I was just thinking about, ‘OK, how do I fit in? How do I make the movie that is perfect for me?’ The last couple of years, you might watch something like ‘Bad Santa,’ or ‘Borat.’ Those are just guys that made movies that really fit their persona. It’s like, this suit fits. I need a tailor-made Chris Rock movie.”

Rock co-wrote (with frequent collaborator Louis C.K.), directed and starred in “I Think I Love My Wife,” co-starring Gina Torres as his devoted wife and Kerry Washington as the bold bombshell who draws him into adulterous temptation, blowing his formerly routine life out of the water.

“I like playing a grown-up,” Rock said of his role. “I think most comedians play guys that won’t grow up. And I think my comedy comes from being a grown-up.”

“I Think I Love My Wife” is based on the 1972 French film “Chloe in the Afternoon,” directed by Eric Rohmer, about a happily married Parisian man who fantasizes about other women but never considers infidelity until an old acquaintance drops by and tries to seduce him.

If a witty, elegant, but very French character study seems like odd source material for a Chris Rock comedy, he isn’t exactly surprised.

“It’s weird,” Rock admits. “I know it sounds like a joke. But I loved [‘Chloe,’] and I got Louis a copy and he loved it, and we both thought that we could get a lot of comedy in here. We thought it was like a house with no furniture; there’s a lot of jokes that could go in here.”

The result is a story that probes the fuzzy line between fantasy and infidelity, telling the humor-filled truth about the pratfalls of married life. And while some jokes fall flat, other moments manage a biting insightfulness more characteristic of Rock’s best stand-up comedy or television projects than his prior films.

“Is [the movie] autobiographical? No,” Rock said. “I definitely relate to the character. I’ve been married 10 years; I have two kids; I live in the suburbs; I commute into the city – all that stuff. It stops there, pretty much.”

The real-life parallels between Rock and his fictional character are too apparent to ignore. TMZ.com reported in November that Rock was filing for divorce after nearly 10 years of marriage to wife Malaak Compton. But he has since refuted the claims, and said now that, “It’s nothing. It’s all rumor. We know Britney cut her hair. But it’s a rumor that she’s crazy, right?”

This story was published in the March 28, 2007 issue of the Washington Square News. An earlier version was published in the March 12, 2007 issue of amNewYork.