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Old 01-29-2010, 12:00 AM
Mark Steven Johnson's When in Rome

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-3...w-When-in-Rome



When in Rome (2010)

Straight off the romantic-comedy assembly line comes "When in Rome," a film that is just about as generic as you can get when it comes to the genre. It's another example of a film that doesn't try too hard in either area and ends up failing in both because of it. Consequently, it also becomes an example of just about everything that is wrong with most films of the genre today.

Beth (Kristen Bell) is an art curator who arranges art shows. When her sister, Joan (Alexis Dziena), suddenly announces that she's getting married, Beth must fly out to Rome to attend. While there, she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel), a charming man who takes a liking to her. When Beth sees him kissing someone else, she automatically assumes it must be his girlfriend, so she has a few drinks too many and ends up in a nearby fountain, yelling at a statue meant to represent love. She also ends up taking a few coins from the fountain in an attempt to save its "victims."

Back in New York, Beth must set up her latest art show, but is continual bothered by men chasing after her, claiming their love for her. Her sister explains that, because she took coins from the fountain of love, the men are now attracted to her and to get rid of them she must put the coins back in the fountain. Nick also shows up in New York, making her wonder if everything she experienced with him was because of the same spell.

It's hard to recall a film that depends this much on people falling over or running into things. It's as if the writers, David Diamond and David Weissman, couldn't think of a single intelligent joke, so they decided to turn it into a repetitive slapstick comedy. The problem with that is that almost all of the jokes are lazy and unfunny. There is only one slightly funny scene among the entire mess which involves Beth giving a speech at her sister's wedding with Nick translating it into Italian.

The performances from the main characters are decent enough, but it's not enough to save this material from showing its weaknesses. There's nothing they can do to make the material funnier than it truly is. There's an interesting list of supporting actors in the film like Anjelica Huston as Beth's boss, and Danny DeVito (strangely not to be found in the credits on IMDB), Jon Heder, and Will Arnett as three of the men under the love spell.

Unfortunately, Huston isn't given a single thing to do and DeVito, Heder, and Arnett merely end up embarrassing themselves. All the men are given to do is chase after Beth, go gaga over her and, of course, run into things and fall over. They even cram all of these things into one particularly annoying scene where Beth and Nick try to have dinner at a restaurant called "Blackout," where everyone eats with the lights off, only to have the other men show up with nightvision goggles (yeah, it didn't make any sense when watching it either).

Character motivations also come into question as we watch Beth run around, making quick assumptions of things that could be solved by simply asking, such as who the woman was that Nick was with at the wedding, or if it was he who threw the poker chip into the fountain that she took out with the coins. However, she never bothers to ask because it would derail the entire film immediately....even more, I mean.

If you have any doubt as to how things end up, then this must be your first romantic-comedy. "When in Rome" ends up being predictable to the last frame. When will the studios learn that surprise can be a good thing? We shouldn't be able to tell where the film is going to end up from the opening scene. Where's the fun in that?

This feels like one of those movies that's destined to become the in-flight movie on an airplane trip. What it ends up boiling down to is a lazy script that leads to lazy jokes. The lesson of the film? Don't steal coins from fountains or your life may become as unfunny and predictable as Beth's. 2/4 stars.
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