An improvement on his terrible two directorial efforts, Chris Rock's third time out both in front of and behind the camera mixes Rock's over exaggerated comedy in the form fairly tame and quite inept sexual farce, with a serious exploration of martial bliss, infidelity and personal happiness.
The plot casts Rock as Richard Cooper, a married buppie with two kids and a gorgeous wife (Gina Torres) who doesn't give him enough sex. As a result every good-looking woman he walks past he pictures in his fantasies. It's then that a gorgeous ex-flame from his past emerges, Nikki (Kerry Washington), who obviously has sex on her mind and starts up a friendship that has him seriously considering cheating on his wife. Her constant hounding of attention begins to affect his job, his family life, etc. until the big moment finally comes - what will he do?
Using Eric Rohmer's 1972 French drama "Chloe in the Afternoon" as its premise, the film is more of an ill-married mismatch than that of the couple it portrays - awkwardly swapping between pretty interesting domestic drama one second, to pure one-liners, viagra jokes, even breaking out into song the next.
The trouble is the former more serious parts are more effective than the later, which only yields one or two good lines and shockingly no laughs whatsoever - in spite of various setups obviously designed to elicit them. Rock is like Robin Williams, hilariously raunchy and fun in his standup but cinematically castrated in comedic roles which have to remain chaste to please the MPAA.
Unfortunately adding to the problem is that the script for 'Wife' paints everything in the broadest possible strokes which means the characters never feel real. Consequently it undermines the interesting moral questions it brings up, not to mention the central inner conflict of 'will he or won't he' which drives the movie along.
Worse still is that it makes some far too cut and dry moral stances, painting not only its characters but its views on relationships along the hard lines of religious zealots, macho pigs or teenagers who follow the crowd mentality - turning the whole endeavor into something borderline offensive. This antiquated viewpoint is a real a surprise coming from someone like Rock who is one of the smartest most savvy guys out there and is never afraid to do his own thing.
In this world guys are either sleazy cheaters or work-obsessed geeks and all have insatiable libidos and little to no self-control. Women are slutty bimbos, nosy workmates or frigid soccer moms. Being married means no sex, and being single means everyone you meet wants to sleep with you, you're clubbing every night, etc. Life is far from being that cut and dry, and the way that 'Wife' refuses to even acknowledge that in the slightest makes it at best irritably naive, at worst self-indulgently misogynist.
On the more practical side of problems is the miscasting. Gina Torres as the assertive, well-mannered, reasonable and simply gorgeous wife burns so brightly that the somewhat flat, man-eating little shrew that Kerry Washington plays simply can't hold a candle to her. Washington's temptation borders on the "Fatal Attraction" style psychotic, whilst Torres complaints and arguments with Rock aren't just logical but completely understandable.
The resulting lust on Rock's part for Washington seems far more like stupidity and selfishness on his part and thus diffuses our concern over how the main story unfolds. Had not just the actresses but the roles been reversed as well, Rock's questioning of his marriage would've been far more believable and understandable. Finally, Rock's direction is also very stock standard and rigid, though makes good use of its New York location and flashy dresses.
Where this will sit is hard to say. Rock fans will be bored with the absolute lack of laughs on display. The aggressiveness of his routines are here, but without the wit or comedy they come off as merely juvenile and annoying rants. His attempt to tackle more serious subject matter is commendable, and at one or two points he nails it, but he's no Jim Carrey or Robin Williams in front of the camera when it comes to dramatic performance, and certainly no great master behind it either. Until he's able to find a vehicle suitable for his unrestrained talent, there'll no doubt be more duds like this on the way.