When in Rome is an aggressively bad movie; perhaps one of the most pathetically manic rom-coms ever made. We’re not talking Because I Said So bad, but at least Couples Retreat bad. That this is the current state of the romantic comedy is pretty sad, as Hollywood continues to expel these lazy, uninspired, and insulting films at couples just trying to find a good movie for Valentine’s Day. In the case of When in Rome, the joke is on anyone who walks into the theater.
The immensely flawed premise involves Beth (Bell), a twenty-something attractive blonde who’s the curator at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan (right). She’s had horrible luck with guys, but meets a nice one, Nick (Duhamel), at her sister’s wedding in Rome. The two hit it off, but Beth loses faith when she witnesses Nick making out with another woman. Frustrated, she picks up and takes home four coins from the so-called “fountain of love” outside of the church. Unbeknownst to her, the coins activate a love spell and soon the coin’s owners (Arnett, Heder, Dax Shepard, and Danny DeVito) are all after her. How convenient that all four of them, plus Nick, are New Yorkers.
From the embarrassing overacting by everyone involved to the second-rate slapstick that acts as a diversion from the putrid script, virtually everything about When in Rome is toxic. Only the scenes involving Nick and his lazy friends conjure up anything resembling laughs. A running gag involving flashbacks of Nick getting struck by lightning while playing football is initially funny, but hell if I know why. That’s the kind of movie this is, only everything else isn’t funny.
Kristen Bell has shown occasional signs of promise, but her past few projects have put her in the wrong direction. Here she is reduced to cartoonish facial acting and falling down a lot. So many movies try to use the attractive klutz as a device, and Bell is above it. Josh Duhamel at least knows this is a bad, bad movie. He mails this in from minute one and it actually makes him the most enjoyable character in the film. How Will Arnett got involved in this I’ll never know, but he turns up as a wannabe Italian artist. The career trajectories of Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, and Danny DeVito are accurately represented.
Valentine’s Day has turned into a mini-film season all its own, and we can only hope the unimaginatively titled Valentine’s Day is better than this junk. It’s never too early to start the Worst of ’10 list, and at this early point When in Rome actually stands as the worst rom-com of the decade. That alone is funnier than anything in the movie. If you must see it, save your $10 and watch it on cable in March.
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Length: 91 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive content.
Theatrical Release: January 29, 2010
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Written by: David Diamond & David Weissman.
Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Anjelica Huston, Will Arnett, Jon Heder