REVIEW: When in Rome [2010]

“This marriage has a shelf life of a banana”

Here is my call to arms people … go visit the Guggenheim Museum and donate money. After The International last year shooting up Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural wonder, New York City decided to get some more cash influx by allowing it to be showcased in this year’s rom-com crazy flick When in Rome. This film is by no means good—at all. However, that said, I laughed a whole lot. Once you leave the plot behind and start to just let the absurd supporting characters wash over you with their eccentricities and obnoxious foibles, you’ll find the smile you were looking for. I did some reconnaissance before my screening and was surprised by the multiple comments about it being one of the funniest movies the viewer had ever seen. Now, I know hyperbole when I see it, but I had the glimmer of hope that maybe I’d at least be entertained. While the beginning twenty or so minutes went by in an excruciatingly painful manner, once Josh Duhamel and magically entranced kooks entered the fray, I was able to sit back and have a good time.

Where are we, though, in terms of world creativity when this plot gets green-lighted? Beth has been spurned her whole life where love is concerned, instead diving into her work as a crutch disguised as coping mechanism. Once her younger sister finds love and marriage in only two weeks, she must journey over to Rome for the wedding—while in the midst of a huge exhibit at the museum for which she is curator—to also be kicked by amore once again. This latest effort, at the hands of Duhamel’s Nick, or so she thinks, leads her to pick out five coins from the fountain of love, keeping their wishes for everlasting romance in her purse. It is at this point where hilarity begins, ushering in the rogues gallery of Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, and Danny DeVito to fawn over and stalk Beth back to NYC. It is both their desperately insane attempts at wooing and Nick’s authentic courting hampered by clumsiness and bad luck that make this film worth watching. Admittedly, I can only watch an actor slapstick his way into light posts or down openings in the street so many times before becoming bored, but something about Duhamel’s affable demeanor kept it fresh despite the repetition.

The story itself really is atrocious. Just the fact that Roman mysticism and folklore is behind it all makes me roll my eyes, so feeling any sort of connection to Beth’s plight is unattainable. I did, however, really like Kristen Bell in this role, and that says something coming from someone who has never been a big fan. She gives the part much more than it deserves and tries her best to let us care for her even though it is her troubles that we are enjoying. Full of clichés and gimmicks, When in Rome’s setups fall flat across the board. Her job being in peril and Anjelica Huston’s mean boss are predictable, watching her newlywed sister in Rome cooking naked with her new husband unoriginal, and the lame attempt at making us think that somehow the two romantic leads won’t end up together in the end is pandering. But all the little things in between, the tiny adventures that could have been skits on a comic variety show excel on their own, even if they seem out of place in the story at hand. What can be out of place, though, when your four stalkers are a street magician, a vain model working on spec, a wannabe painter, and an older sausage magnate? With a mix like that, anything goes.

Before getting into the big name bit parts, I want to mention a couple unknowns. Why both leads needed a sidekick with insanely wide-open eyes is beyond me. Kate Micucci is anime cute as Stacy, but also kind of creepy with that blank stare, while Bobby Moynihan, playing Puck, (a not so subtle nod to Shakespeare’s jester), is pretty darn funny. Using “Roots” as a punchline and really just playing the goof opposite Duhamel’s star-crossed lover, I hope to see more of this guy. But that’s enough of the newbies; let’s get onto the veterans. Each of these four suitors is completely two-dimensional, trying their best to bring some laughs while trapped in thankless, cheesy parts. DeVito is a tad overzealous going after a girl more than half his age, yet the completion of his arc worked for me, although he is the throwaway of the group. Arnett’s fake Italian schtick gets old, but I can’t get enough of that innocent, stupefied look whenever he does something wrong; Heder is annoying and strangely humorous in his costume alone, allowing a Napoleon Dynamite guest star be his role’s finest hour; and Shepard never ceases to amaze in bringing laughs with his characters’ gigantic egos in everything he does.

I’d like to tell director Mark Steven Johnson to stick to comic book superhero films, yet that didn’t work out too well for him either. The only real thing I can fault him for here is the fact that he took on the project to begin with. There really is nothing original in the script besides some funny moments that hit hard due to the joke, not its relevance to the plot. Without an extended sequence of dining in the dark that contained the always-wonderful Kristen Schaal, a clown car gag that was much funnier than it should have been, and Keir O’Donnell’s knack for playing very odd characters, I wouldn’t have been able to find anything redeeming. A few effective parts cannot make up for the lackluster whole, no matter how hard I did laugh at times. I do think both Bell and Duhamel have what it takes to make a good romantic comedy together, knowing how to play the charming, romantic couple. Sadly this isn’t quite it.

When in Rome 5/10 | ★ ★

[1] Josh Duhamel as Nick and Kristen Bell as Beth in drama romance ‘When in Rome.’ Photo by Philippe Antonello. © Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved. Artwork © Cai Guo-Qiang
[2] (l to r) JON HEDER, DAX SHEPARD, WILL ARNETT, DANNY DeVITO Photo: Kerry Hayes SMPSP ‘© Touchstone Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.’


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