With Kristin Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Anjelica Huston. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content. 91 minutes.
The cliché is that guys aren’t supposed to like romantic comedies, but this reviewer does, even having written a book on the subject. As a result, this reviewer is willing to cut entries in the genre some slack, not piling on middling examples of the genre, provided there are some nice performances or some wit to the script. A recent movie like “It’s Complicated” isn’t a classic of the form, but it’s entertaining and has great turns by Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.
All this is to set the stage for a review of the latest rom-com entry, WHEN IN ROME. The only reason this isn’t the worst romantic comedy in recent memory is that this reviewer also had to review the recent Sandra Bullock disaster “All About Steve.” A double feature of the two films ought to be banned as cruel and unusual punishment.
Kristen Bell stars as Beth, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. She’s got a special exhibition coming up but has to fly to Rome for the weekend for her sister’s wedding. Her boss (Anjelica Huston) warns her that her job is on the line. Beth promises to stay on top of things. After some unfunny slapstick she finds herself attracted to the best man Nick (Josh Duhamel). When she later sees him with another woman she ends up in the “Fountain of Love” where people toss coins to wish for romance. Drunk, she instead picks up several coins thinking she’s saving the wishers from disaster.
Instead, magic happens. The men whose coins she found are now hopelessly in love with her and pursue her back in New York, as does Nick. This includes an artist (Will Arnett), a street magician (Jon Heder), a sausage magnate (Danny DeVito), and a male model (Dax Shepard). Each is more obnoxious that the last. The only honest laugh in the film is when Heder’s “Napoleon Dynamite” co-star Efren Ramirez pops up as a guy keeping a video record of the magician’s act.
Bell and Duhamel are easy to look at and have shown their acting skills in TV series (“Veronica Mars” and “Las Vegas,” respectively) but neither yet has the star power to sell this slight material. Worse, neither is really adept at the slapstick comedy elements, such as a bizarre sequence in which he takes her to a restaurant where people dine in complete darkness and the wait staff has night vision goggles. In the context of another movie the scene might have worked but here it seems like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch shoehorned into the film.
“When In Rome” may not be the worst film of 2010 – the year is young – but it is a failure, from the weak performances to the contrived script to the sure sign of desperation, a rock video production number featuring the whole cast in the closing credits. With numerous examples of how to do the romantic comedy right, from the 1930s to the present, why does Hollywood continue to get it so wrong with movies like this?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.