Review: When in Rome

Posted by: Elizabeth Hughes Belzil  //  January 29, 2010 @ 1:49am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

For several days now I have been deliberating how to write this review. I considered an ironic approach (e.g. 'Wow! Comedy doesn't get anymore sophisticated than running into telephone posts, spinach stuck in teeth and clown car routines.' or 'Kristen Bell's tour-de-force performance causes audience members to forget that acting is about more than a pretty face'.) Next I tried hyperbole (e.g. 'This film is as vacuous as space, only significantly less intriguing.') Finally, I conceded defeat -- neither of my approaches seemed suited to the material. When in Rome is one of those films so ordinary in its badness, so unexceptionally ill conceived that it hardly warrants a review. It's unpleasant but routine, like a daily dose of castor oil or the annual trip to the dentist's office.

The plot may as well have been composed using a book of Screwball Comedy Mad Libs: A beautiful, smart and career-driven young (state a job title) named (insert female name) is unlucky with men. However, her luck changes when she attends (name an event) in (name a city) and meets the handsome but rough-around-the-edges man of her dreams, (insert male name). After returning to (name another city), the two encounter numerous hijinks but eventually realize they are meant to be.

The Mad Libs analogy not only describes the formulaic nature of the story, but the random and undeveloped characters. Beth (Kristen Bell) is supposedly a talented art curator, however nothing about her manner or dialogue suggests the passion and erudition necessary to be successful in such an elite profession. Her idea of scholarly conversation is namedropping big names like Picasso, Manet and the Guggenheim Museum. (Also, I found it difficult to believe that an art lover would furiously text during her first cab ride through Rome.) The event where she meets Mr. Right (Josh Duhamel) is her sister's wedding and the site is Rome. Initially Mr. Right (Nick) comes off as a factory-produced douche bag redeemed only by his Ken Doll good looks. Later, it's revealed he's a down-to-earth sports reporter (mind you, with all the personality of a dirt clod). As luck would have it, both reside in the Big Apple, so their blossoming romance has a fair chance to continue -- but things can't be that easy, of course. This brings us to the bizarre twist, clearly a last-ditch effort by the filmmakers to infuse this regurgitation with a modicum of original thought. While in Rome, Beth purloins five coins from a magical fountain and, as a result, the coins' original owners fall madly and inexplicably in love with her. Bring in the stooges! (Danny Devito, Will Arnett, Dax Shepard and John Heder) Note: The fifth coin's owner is a mystery.

Though difficult to distinguish through the smog of mediocrity, John Heder's portrayal of a Criss Angel-esque magician probably ranks as the film's nadir. As usual, his lack of charisma, comic timing and anything resembling acting talent leads me to ask when his film career will finally sleep with the fishes. Just when I thought things couldn't get any more dismal, Heder's Napoleon Dynamite co-star Efren Ramirez (aka Pedro) makes a cameo. The filmmakers obviously (and justifiably) doubt their creation's comedic viability so much so they feel it necessary to steal a cheap laugh with a stunt like this.

Outside of a few low points, this film is basically a predictably terrible January release. As boring and unfunny as it may be, I anticipate the film will make back more than it cost to make. Its target demographic is comprised of 12 to 17 year olds and, as we all know, teenagers flock to megaplexes like seagulls flock to landfills.

Tags: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Jon Heder, Danny Devito, Will Arnett, Dax Shepard, Anjelica Huston, When in Rome, romantic comedy

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Original Comments Posted (1)

Paul Little says...

I've been describing the film to people as a typically-bland romantic comedy that stars a few funny people who manage to be funny at times despite the script.

Frankly, anything Will Arnett does is always going to be funny to me, and Dax Shepard is often amusing to me, as well. Even Josh Duhamel, as boring as his character was, is still somehow a likeable enough guy that I didn't want to stab myself in the heart.

(Plus, even though she was pretty bad here, Kristen Bell is usually a decent comedic actress, and is always nice to look at. :P)

Jan 29, 2010 6:01am

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