Sunday, October 21, 2012

Roman Hell-iday: "When in Rome" (2010)

If I wanted to watch bad television, I would have skipped this rental and turned on any original MTV or VH1 programming.

Beth (Kristin Bell) is a driven museum invited to Rome to be in her sister's (Alexis Dziena) wedding. While her younger sister celebrates her whirlwind romance, Beth worries about a huge exhibition overseen by her cold boss Celeste (Anjelica Huston, who obviously wandered in from a better movie). At the wedding, Beth meets the charming Nick (Josh Duhamel), and the two get along very well until the well worn sitcom cliche- "seeing possible new boyfriend kissed by mysterious girl"- rears its ugly head. Beth gets good and drunk (the adorable rom-com drunk, not the puke on your own hair drunk) and takes some coins from the conveniently placed Fountain of Love, where the lovelorn throw in their Euros and other monies and hope for true love.

An odd thing happens. The five coins she took are magically connected to the five men who threw them in, and now those five men fall hopelessly in love with Beth, who has jetted back home to New York City. Now Beth must not only avoid sports writer Nick, but struggling artist Antonio (Will Arnett), self-obsessed male model Gale (Dax Shepard), street magician Lance (Jon Heder), and sausage king Al (Danny Devito). Beth must discern whether Nick is feeling real love through a series of badly written set pieces, as the other four men make fools of themselves trying to win her heart, too.

For a ninety-one minute movie, this film has a lot of characters. Both Beth and Nick have the standard network of try-to-be-funnier supporting friends, and Beth's divorced parents (Peggy Lipton and Don Johnson, in case you were wondering whatever happened to him) bicker and make Beth sad. The editing is so choppy, and the viewer is thrown into the melee so quickly, we don't get to know Beth. She becomes a vacuous harpy I didn't ever sympathize with.

Bell is okay in the lead role, but she must act her way through a screenplay that unravels like a series of rejected "Saturday Night Live" skits. The vase that wouldn't break at the wedding? Calling a girl during a men-only poker game? A "blackout" restaurant? The cast goes through the motions, with Duhamel and Shepard getting the most laughs (what precious few there are), but the film makers lurch from one unfunny set-up to another. The cast doesn't get to "play" or improvise (check out Shepard on the blooper reel, delivering much funnier material than what ended up in the final cut), reined in by a pace meant to hide all the predictability (if you did not see the final scenes coming, you have never seen a film, watched TV, or read a book before).

It's sad, but "When in Rome" is indicative of the current sorry state of romantic comedies. Like a plate of spaghetti, it's been done before, is a bit cheesy, and brings precious little satisfaction and much heartburn. (*) out of five stars.