Studio: Walt Disney
Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Danny DeVito
Directed By: Mark Steven Johnson
Running Time: 91 minutes
Ratings: US: PG-13, Canada: PG
When Beth, an unlucky-in-love New York curator (Bell) takes a whirlwind trip to Rome for her sister’s wedding, an unexpected crush takes her by surprise. Quickly let down, she defiantly plucks coins from the Fontana de Amore, magically igniting the passions of some comically unsuitable suitors. As a charming reporter (Duhamel) becomes zealously smitten, Beth is skeptical that he’s the real deal.
Recently, the wife and I sat down for a cozy evening on the couch watching two actors who are as well-known for their likeability as they are for poor script choices. We knew we weren’t sitting down to “Citizen Kane” – but when the opening scene boasted such cliches as the no-time-for-love working woman, the gay/fat/ugly best friends, and the startling-revelation-record-scratch (twice!), we knew we were in for a long evening.
Sure enough, “When in Rome” is a lazily-written rom-com that during its best moments is…well…pleasant. The male lead towers over his female counterpart, and that’s a good physical manifestation of how incompatible the duo are. Like most bad romantic comedies, the viewer’s attention quickly shifts to the film’s eccentric supporting characters – and you can feel the whole movie waking up only temporarily when they come on screen.
Like so many romantic comedies, this one has a gimmick, and it’s safe to say that no couple ever in the history of mankind will have to face this particular adversity. No, it’s not being forced to break up with a man in ten days or having to marry your despised boss before she gets deported – in this case, the gimmick kicks in when Bell’s character has a few drinks and decides to show her distrust of wishing by removing coins from a fountain.
Naturally, this causes all the dudes who deposited those coins to fall in love with her. And naturally, they’re all eccentrics – an overly-serious magician (Jon Heder), a Chico Marx-like painter (Will Arnett), a frequently-shirtless male model (Dax Shepard) and a diminutive sausage titan (Danny DeVito). Wow, lucky for us she didn’t attract four normal people, huh?
Somehow, all four end up in New York. Bell and Duhamel each retreat to their fat/charming/eccentric friends who guide them towards each other, while the “suitors” keep showing up with increasingly embarrassing displays of affection towards Bell – who has them under some sort of spell where they’re convinced that she’s their soulmate. Yeah.
The bottom line? If you ever find yourself stuck watching “When in Rome,” fast-forward to the dining in the dark scene, one of the few truly-inspired moments in the film. Other than that, the only parts worth watching are the “suitors” stuff, which must be largely improvised since it’s so much funnier than the rest of the movie.
Bell, of course, is beautiful and charming – but the movie doesn’t do justice to either of those strengths. Duhamel is all Johnny Bravo – he wears the suit well, but doesn’t seem to be much more than the perfect-looking guy for a film like this. Oh, also no review of “When in Rome” would be complete without mention of Keir O’Donnell, a veteran supporting actor who appears in a handful of scenes as a “Father Dino.”
In case you aren’t familiar with O’Donnell, he is Australian; in “Rome,” he plays an Italian priest. I would venture to guess that if you grabbed any Australian off the streets of Sydney and asked them to do an Italian accent, it would likely be more legitimate than O’Donnell’s wincingly-painful missing-Mario-Brother schtick. Like so much else in “Rome,” you get the feeling that everyone on the set was so busy cracking themselves up that they forgot to realize that such over-the-top nonsense wouldn’t work when an editor later tried to string it all together.
Crave Factor – 3
“Crazy Casanovas: Mischief From the Set”: The most valuable thing learned from this feature is that director Mark Steven Johnson looks like Ray Liotta when he laughs. In fact, there are a dozen reaction shots – an average of one a minute! – depicting MSJ busting a gut. If only “When In Rome” was as funny for the rest of us. You know that friend of yours who is a really, really easy laugh? Well, if he ever wants to get into the lackluster-romantic-comedy-director business, apparently he’s got what it takes.
“Extended Pain With the Suitors”: Deleted scenes featuring three of the suitors – Arnett, Heder and Shepard – invading the Guggenheim to create their own elaborate exhibitions professing love for Bell’s character. While you can see why they were omitted, more of these guys would have been a good thing. Also unsurprisingly, Jon Heder – who subjects himself to an electric chair – is the funniest one.
“Kerplunk! Bloopers From Rome”: Mostly footage of the stars dropping things – coins, beer bottles, line readings – as far as bloopers go, they’re pretty lame. And does footage of the actors dancing between takes even count as a “blooper”?
As a “special incentive” to those purchasing the film on Blu-ray, the studio has included an alternate opening and ending, as well as extra bonus features unavailable on the DVD. Honestly, each falls more under the heading of “overkill” than “worth your time.”
Crave Factor – 4
The transfer is as standard and unexceptional as the film itself. Since most consumers save their Blu-ray budget for films that will look or sound particularly yummy on their home systems, I guess you just have to ask yourself one question: Really?
Crave Factor – 3
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 / Dolby Digital Surround Sound (English, Spanish and French)
The film’s delightful soundtrack makes for light listening as the film plays, but little else stands out from the mix.
Crave Factor – 4
The menus are cute (the chapters are marked in coins!), the soundtrack is breezy and easy on the ears, and both Kristen Bell and Rome look great in Blu-Ray. Too bad the movie itself spends most of its time in New York.
Crave Factor – 6
If you’re a huge fan of romantic comedies, must see every one that comes out, and have no problem with preposterous plot gimmicks, your choice has already been made. If you’re a guy looking for a less-painful alternative when she’s suggesting Katherine Heigl or Sarah Jessica Parker movies, you could do worse. But this is a mediocre movie on a mediocre Blu-Ray; ten minutes after you watch the confectionary pleasantries of “When in Rome,” you likely will have forgotten most of it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.