“If you take someone’s coin from the fountain they fall in love with you.”
Beth, a young, ambitious museum curator, goes to Rome for her sister’s wedding, has a disappointing romantic encounter, then finds herself spitefully taking coins out of the Fontana de Amore. From this potentially humorous plot, we get When in Rome, a flat romantic comedy that is as predictable as it is unoriginal (or is that the same thing?).
There are times when silly is just the thing, and—yes—the concept is silly, but placed in more adept hands it could have been an entertaining film. The cast is capable and attractive enough, but no one could raise When in Rome to the level of farce, no less romantic comedy.
Once Beth (Kristen Bell) removes coins from the fountain, her admirers include an artist (Will Arnett), a model (Dax Shepard), a street magician (Jon Heder), an art patron (Danny DeVito) who happens to be the “sausage king,” and an exceptionally clumsy journalist (Josh Duhamel, channeling Tom Hanks at times) all of whom are so passionately in love with Beth that they have totally lost control of their actions. The total loss of control pales in comparison to the total lack of subtlety.
Obnoxious, annoying characters stand in for the likable-but-quirky ones expected in this genre. They are in competition with ridiculous situations that inspire a readiness to disengage, quickly replacing one’s willingness to suspend disbelief. In a world where perception is everything, would a woman who has found (and loves) Mr. Right walk away from him because, spellbound, he believes he’s in love with her?
Anjelica Huston starts well as Celeste (boss curator at the Guggenheim), a Miranda Priestly knock-off, but the writers lose interest in Celeste after her first scene. Shaquille O’Neal and Lawrence Taylor make cameo appearances in a throwaway bar scene, and Don Johnson and Peggy Lipton appear as Beth’s parents.
When in Rome gives us a Wizard of Oz ending in which the players all learn something important about themselves, or—better yet—find themselves in unlikely pairings. Okay, I’ll buy the magic, I’ll buy the fortuitous lightning, I’ll even buy the boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-yadda-yadda-yadda storyline. What I won’t buy is a comedy that fails to provoke one laugh or smile.
There is fun in When in Rome, but the audience must wait for a dance number in the closing credits before they have any. Extra features are “Kerplunk! Bloopers from Rome,” deleted scenes, and music videos.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent When in Rome? Go back two paragraphs for my answer.