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When in Rome’ Disappoints

Caitlin Ferraro | Wednesday, February 3, 2010

“When in Rome” fails in so many ways, especially in that the film barely takes place in the magical city. The viewer thinks that they get to experience an hour and a half of beautiful Rome, but instead are left with a poor picture of Manhattan. Director Mark Steven Johnson’s romantic comedy also falls short in achieving the sentiments of romance or humor. Instead, it leaves the viewer wondering why they spent their money and time on such a disaster.

“When in Rome” stars the usually charming Kristen Bell as Beth, a hardworking art curator who cares more about her job than finding love. She is a total cliché, and it seems nobody in her life, including her parents, thinks she can be happy without finding that special guy. The viewers ought to cringe at the caricature of a woman presented and her need to be completed by a man. So of course to add insult to injury, her little sister Joan (Alexis Dziena) suddenly announces she is getting married after knowing her fiancé for two weeks.

If only Beth could jump into love like her baby sister! Thus, Beth heads to Rome, the arguably most romantic city in the world. Unfortunately, except for one beautiful montage of scenes while Beth is in a taxi on her way to the wedding, Johnson fails to capture the magnificence, antiquity and romance of Rome.

At the wedding, Beth meets the hopelessly clumsy best man Nick (Josh Duhamel) who just might be the guy she is looking for to uproot her from her wayward ways of working too much. These first 20 minutes are the most enjoyable ones of the film, as Bell and Duhamel have their only few cute moments together and the physical comedy is funny. But then tragedy strikes — the gimmick of the plot gets in the way.

After a misunderstanding with Nick, Beth, feeling alone and lovelorn, takes five coins from the Trevi Fountain and the owners of those coins magically fall in love with her. This is where the film takes a terrible turn for the worse. Suddenly five reasonably good actors turn into idiots. Dax Shepard is annoying as a self-indulgent model. Jon Heder is pathetic as a struggling street magician. Comedy genius Will Arnett is reduced to a goofy, lovesick painter with a ridiculous Italian accent. And Danny DeVito, in an uncredited role, is a persistent sausage king.

The four men chase Beth all over New York City trying to prove their love. The comedy of the film is that uncomfortable kind that makes the viewer want to shield their eyes to avoid witnessing the embarrassing stunts the characters continually pull. Whether it is the actors or the filmmaker’s fault, there is a lack of comic timing.

While the others are being fools, Nick is pursuing Beth ardently. But can Beth open up her heart to love? And furthermore, is Nick the owner of the fifth coin and simply under the spell? Unfortunately, that is the extent of the conflict and chemistry in the film.If only someone else could save this film, but the rest of the supporting cast fails as well. Anjelica Houston is boring as Beth’s boss and Beth’s assistant Stacy (Kate Micucci) is simply strange.

Bell tries to salvage the film, but Beth’s character is a far cry from the interesting ones of Veronica Mars and Sarah Marshall. Duhamel does his best as well, and it doesn’t hurt that he is gorgeous. Unfortunately his good looks are one of the only redeemable qualities about this film. The two did their best with an unfunny script and poor dialogue.
But as the ridiculous credits in which the cast break out into dancing roll, you can’t help wonder why these two fall in love with each other — a critical component of any successful romantic comedy.