When In Rome
Kristen Bell’s recent transformation from credible actress (Spartan, Veronica Mars) to check casher (Couples Retreat, When in Rome) is one of the more upsetting developments of the past year. Still she is a joy to watch, even when fruitlessly trying to smash a glass vase in one of the worst conceived gags we’ve ever seen, and here, as in Couples Retreat, makes the movie almost bearable. She joins a gaggle of other talented, though apparently hard up, comedic actors who all plow their way through a painfully predictable script. For those who don’t know but somehow still care Bell plays Beth, a museum curator/workaholic whose love life is an utter failure until, when in Rome, she goes digging around in the “Fountain of Love” and removes five coins. Instantly every guy who threw one of those coins into the fountain falls head over heels in love with her. And if that doesn’t sound bad enough writer/director Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil…yick) also makes it a point to entertain his audience by feeding them a steady diet of lumpy slapstick.
The first thing you may notice about this story is just how convenient everything is. As it turns out all of her stalkers are white males past the natural breeding age. But imagine the jokes that could have followed had she plucked out a coin owned by a child, or a little old lady, or an impoverished black man. Danny DeVito is there as one of the gentlemen callers, which could’ve been creepy, but that just feels like the film trying to be edgy without having to offend anybody.
One of the obsessives is Nick Beamon (Josh Duhamel) and he clearly stands out from the pack. He doesn’t do magic tricks or strip naked in a diner or try and dazzle Beth with his sexy Italian accent. . .in other words he is odd due to his lack of oddness. So pretty much once we realize he the winner of the sweepstakes is (which we already knew going in because we had seen the poster) we’re stuck waiting around as Johnson pussyfoots around the inevitable while pleasing the popcorn-munchers by hitting every romantic convention imaginable.
One of the most annoying features of this film is the thick, glossy, plasticy veneer that covers every frame. The scenes that supposedly take place in Rome could not have looked more like a soundstage. New York, where the whole thing was actually filmed, looks a little better though that is not saying much. Of course it will surprise nobody to learn that romanticized New York (read: Central Park) is well represented where as less idyllic neighborhoods are MIA. To cover up a lame ass script and a lack of directing ability Johnson turned to his Rolodex and used it to cram every cameo he could muster up on screen and, by some miracle, the classic misdirection nearly works.
Instead of thinking about how bad some of the jokes are you’ll find yourself amused by Lawrence Taylor being heckled by Bobby Moynihan in a bar, or by Kristen Schaal as a hostess in a restaurant that allows guests to eat in pitch blackness. Shaq stops by and contributes nothing which is fitting and thus funny. But all of those pale in comparison to one of the sneakiest and more inspired cameos in years. Those of you who went gaga over Bill Murray’s turn in Zombieland should have saved your glee for this bit of stunt casting. Hoping that we’re gonna tell you who it is? Keep hoping.
For fun you could sit down before the movies start and try to plot out the entire movie scene by scene. More than likely you would have about 90% of it nailed down to a tee. With that being the case you’ll have to look elsewhere for entertainment and might we suggest laughing at those who are gullible enough to laugh at this mess. Or count the number of people who walk out before the end credits role. With romantic comedies being slanted more and more towards females it is only fitting that they would start to aim them directly at their target audience and When in Rome does do that better than most. The film depicts a girl who is chased around the big city by a gang of guys who are totally enchanted by her. Needless to say, she of course feels infinitely superior to them so she can take the attention they offer and then shrug them off guilt free. No matter what anybody tells you this is indeed every female’s wildest fantasy.
Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Danny DeVito, Will Arnett
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Writers: Mark Steven Johnson, David Diamond, David Weissman
Runtime: 91 minutes
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