January 29, 2010
Certain scenes in "When in Rome" signify nothing less than the death of screen slapstick, but I'm hoping it's one of those fake-out movie deaths where slapstick's not really dead, not forever.
The deadliest scene involves headliners Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel on a date, stumbling around a Lower Manhattan restaurant that serves its patrons in complete darkness and a complete lack of funniness. After all, the "When in Rome" screenwriters gave us "Old Dogs" last year.
Beth, our heroine, is a tightly wound Type-A career-is-everything woman (daisy fresh, that character type), cursed by crummy luck with the menfolk. She's the brightest young curator at the Guggenheim Museum. In Rome for her sister's whirlwind wedding, Beth drunkenly scoops out of a magic fountain a handful of coins tossed in by lovelorn tourists who become Beth's enchanted stalkers, smitten without knowing why. These suitors are played by Danny DeVito (encased-meats impresario), Dax Shepard (would-be male model), Jon Heder (street magician) and Will Arnett (painter). That's one coin more than "Three Coins in the Fountain," for the record.
The majority of the film's characters are New Yorkers visiting Rome, so Beth can keep running into the same people back home. At the wedding, she meets a sports columnist and former college football star played by Duhamel. He's roguishly charming and interested and second-billed, but the stalker-sweeties so conspicuously lacking in jokes keep throwing plot obstacles in their way.
I don't know if you saw "Leap Year," the one with Amy Adams complaining about her cellphone coverage all over Ireland, but "When in Rome" pulls its own variation on this theme. Bell, whose perk has a way of sending you into a beach-party movie reverie, complains about her cellphone coverage all over Rome! Moral: Some crises are more relatable than others.
Most of the Rome bits were shot in New York, which is why the key Roman fountain scenes look like a gussied-up corner of Toronto. The movie lacks invention and true magic in the worst way. Duhamel comes off best; his line readings, at least, have some snap. I enjoyed the end-credits sequence, which affords the ensemble a chance to dance. But director Mark Steven Johnson does not make the pre-end-credits part of the movie, otherwise known as "the movie," much fun at all.
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