A Holiday for the Brain
by Roxana Hadadi
As romantic comedies go, there’s nothing patently offensive about “When in Rome,” the flick starring Kristen Bell (“Couples Retreat”) and Josh Duhamel (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”) as young twentysomethings who maybe fall in love because of a magical Italian fountain. But there’s nothing very memorable about it, either.
With a girl unready for love, an ancient curse, her mean boss, a cute guy falling for her and a few other extraneous suitors, “When in Rome” looks as stereotypical as any offering from the pinkest of film genres. And it mostly is: There’s no dialogue here that’s witty or smart, the time frame for love isn’t believable, and the chemistry between the two leads isn’t that magnetic.
But for a 91-minute foray into romantic Neverland, the film is a tolerable excursion, buoyed by a supporting cast full of comedians funnier than its leads. Sure, Bell and Duhamel have solid TV careers thanks to “Veronica Mars,” “Heroes,” “Gossip Girl” and “Las Vegas,” but this movie won’t necessarily make them film stars. Instead, that distinction may go to Kristen Schaal, from “The Daily Show” and HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords,” and Bobby Moynihan, from “Saturday Night Live” – both of them steal scenes throughout the whole film.
Things start off by introducing viewers to Beth (Bell), the youngest curator at the Guggenheim in Manhattan, who hasn’t dated anyone new since being dumped by her boyfriend a year ago. He broke things off with her because she was too addicted to her work, and Beth learns at one of her events that he has since moved on and gotten engaged to someone else. If that didn’t already make for the “worst day ever,” the hits just keep on coming when she goes home and is randomly visited by her little sister, Joan (Alexis Dziena, “Entourage”), who tells her she’s gotten engaged to an Italian guy she’s known for only two weeks. Though Beth is happy for Joan, who tells her the wedding is in Italy in two days, she also declares, “When I find a guy I like more than my job, then I’ll know he’s the one.”
And, in a typical romantic comedy plot twist, Beth finds that guy at her sister’s wedding: Nick (Duhamel), Umberto’s best man, helps her smash a vase – a typical Italian tradition, we’re told – and also translates her congratulations speech to the happy couple, flubbing quite a bit but helping her escape total embarrassment. But just when Beth thinks she has a shot with the handsome sports journalist, she sees him kissing a leggy Italian brunette, causing her to wade into the Fountain of Love outside the chapel and pick up various coins thrown in there. By scooping out the coins, however, she claims the love of the men who tossed them into the magical fountain: Painter Antonio (Will Arnett), street magician Lance (Jon Heder), model Gale (Dax Shepard) and sausage company owner Al (Danny DeVito)
Soon, the four of them are following her to New York – where Nick also lives, yay! – and pursuing her quite intensely, from painting nude pictures of her along city buildings to attempting to pull off magic tricks in her apartment. But while their antics are getting her in trouble with her take-no-crap boss, Celeste (Anjelica Houston, doing her best to channel Meryl Streep from “The Devil Wears Prada”), Beth is also pining for Nick, who similarly has taken an interest in her – but whose attraction, she fears, isn’t actually for her, but because of the fountain’s curse.
If you can’t figure out what happens next, then you may have never seen a romantic comedy … ever. But while the end of the film is expectedly hokey and clichéd, the way it gets there has moments of hilarious greatness: From when Heder recreates a “Napoleon Dynamite” moment by introducing his assistant, Juan – who is played by Efren Ramirez, the same guy who portrayed Pedro in the 2004 cult comedy – to DeVito living up to his creepy old man potential by saying stuff like, “There is not an emotion on Earth that can’t be expressed through sausage,” there are definite funny moments here and there.
And the best scenes come when Nick takes Beth to a restaurant where the diners are seated in a pitch-black room and forced to only rely on their senses – from their waitress, Ilona (Schaal), who revels in eavesdropping on their conversation to when the four other suitors all show up and start caressing Beth in the dark – and whenever Moynihan shows up as Nick’s sports photographer friend Puck, who tracks Beth around the city to see if she’s right for his friend and spouts lines like, “How long are you gonna take? We watched ‘Roots’ while you were gone,” when accosting Nick for calling Beth during their guys’ poker night.
But those scenes are few and far between, and the rest of the film meanders in safe mediocrity – in fact, the PG-13 rating seems a little unjustified, as there’s no real nudity, violence or bad language; the only scene that kind of pushes it is when Joan and Umberto are making pasta together naked, but every body part is covered up and it’s not too sexually suggestive. Instead, the film is mainly frothy – and utterly forgettable. It’s not a complete waste of time, but it’s probably a bad sign that Pedro’s cameo is the best part of “When in Rome.”
Trailers shown with this film were for “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Last Song” and “Oceans,” a documentary by Disney Nature.