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"WHEN IN ROME"
(2010) (Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A cynical career woman from Manhattan steals five coins from an enchanted Italian fountain, causing five very different men to fall in love with her.
PLOT:
Beth (KRISTEN BELL) is an unlucky-in-love New Yorker, who takes a break from catering to her boss Celeste's (ANJELICA HUSTON) every whim to travel to Rome for her sister Joan's (ALEXIS DZIENA) wedding. At the ceremony, she falls for Nick (JOSH DUHAMEL), the groom's charming best man. When she finds him kissing another woman, though, Beth promptly gets drunk and ends up in an enchanted Italian street fountain. There, she steals four coins and a poker chip to save the five poor wounded hearts who threw them in the pain of waiting around for true love.

Back in Manhattan, she's shocked to find that five very different men have fallen head over heels in love with her: Antonio (WILL ARNETT), a struggling street artist; Lance (JON HEDER), an overly dramatic magician; Gale (DAX SHEPARD), a self-absorbed male model; Al (DANNY DEVITO), a diminutive sausage mogul; and, to her surprise, Nick from the wedding.

Eventually, though, Beth discovers that these were the five men who had thrown the four coins and the poker chip into the fountain wishing for true romance. Beth is in love with Nick, but doesn't trust that his love is real. Meanwhile, she recognizes the other four guys are nice men and doesn't want to hurt them. How can she break the spell, get the guy, and not hurt anybody?

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Seriously, why can't Hollywood make good romantic comedies on a consistent basis any more? The good ones -- heck, even the tolerable ones -- seem to be getting increasingly few and far between now. For every "(500) Days of Summer" that approaches relationships with wry observation and genuine insight, there are five or six others that are just jive and contrived.

"When in Rome" is one such film. This is one of those examples of a team of filmmakers who actually failed to realize what they had here. They actually had two likable leads in Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel with chemistry and charm. They had a couple of interesting film locales in Rome and Manhattan (although some New York locations rather obviously double as Italian sites).

And they had a mostly cute concept: a cynical woman unlucky in love plucks a coin out of a fountain that a man threw in wishing for love and suddenly he is smitten with her. He's a dreamboat, and she falls for him. But is it the spell that has made him love her or is it real?

Throw in a quirky best friend or two, and you have a bit of "When Harry Met Sally" crossed with "Love Potion No. 9." If the writing is there and the leads appeal, you're golden. But nooooooooo! The filmmakers stretch their conceit way, WAY too far in this faux-magical romantic flick. Bell's cynical New Yorker plucks five coins out of the magical Italian fountain (Beth is in Rome for the wedding of her kid sister). So she ends up with FIVE guys in love with her! And, luck be a dumb lady tonight, all five end up back in New York with her!

One of them is Duhamel's Nick, of course. The film doesn't play fair, though, because he's the only one of the five that resembles a flesh-and-blood human being. The other four are bad sketch-comedy characters, including: an overly dramatic magician (Jon Heder), a self-absorbed male model (Dax Shepard), an obsessive street artist (Will Arnett), and a desperate sausage mogul (Danny DeVito).

None of these gentlemen are given any direction whatsoever by Mark Steven Johnson, and many of their scenes end up being shrill, annoying, and just plain embarrassing for all concerned. I felt bad for even the extras in these scenes where they are chasing Beth all over New York professing their creepy love for her.

The amazing thing is when the film centers on Nick and Beth, it's really quite charming. Duhamel has never been this good in a film before. He's funny, charming, low-key, and completely unaffected on screen. Bell, meanwhile, doesn't really have a movie-star face. But she's a deceptively good actress, and her scenes with Duhamel have nice rhythm to them. Yet, there are at least three or four instances where one or two or all of the four loons mentioned above barge into their scenes together and just ruin the moment.

Ultimately, the film just doesn't have faith in its characters or its audience to deliver a cohesive vision. As a low-key, romantic comedy, I have no doubt this would have succeeded. But Johnson felt the need to throw in everything from magical lightning to an enchanted fountain to some poorly placed slapstick to even some inexplicable cameos by Lawrence Taylor and Shaquille O'Neal just to see what sticks. Not much does. "When in Rome" rates as a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed January 27, 2010 / Posted January 29, 2010


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