Review: When in Rome

* * out of four

When you were a kid, did you ever wonder why your parents told you not to take coins from a wishing fountain? “Daredevil” director Mark Steven Johnson solves this mystery in “When in Rome,” a very predictable, sometimes funny and overall ho-hum romantic comedy.

Kristen Bell (“Astro Boy,” “Couples Retreat”) plays Beth, whose younger sister is getting married to some Italian guy she’s only known for two weeks while Beth is more in love with her job in an art gallery than a man. Josh Duhamel (“Win a Date With Tad Hamilton,” “Transformers”) is best man Nick, and when he starts flirting with maid of honor Beth, it looks like things are changing in Beth’s life. But soon we have the “accidental misinterpretation,” where Beth sees something, makes an assumption and abandons her hopes with Nick.

Now, feeling rejected, she wades in one of Rome’s beautiful fountains. She decides to take some of the coins which she believes were thrown in by people wishing for love. What she doesn’t know is with each coin she picks up, whoever threw it will fall hoplessly in love with her.

She is soon trailed by four strange men, played by Will Arnett, Danny DeVito, Dax Shepard, and Jon Heder. She also seems to be running into Nick a lot. She seems to be falling for Nick, after said misunderstanding is cleared up, and wouldn’t you know it, she finds evidence that Nick is in fact the owner of the fifth coin she picked up. So… is Nick in love with Beth or is it just a spell?

You should already know where this is going. It’s an easy film to predict. So that aside, let’s look at the rest of the film.

Chemistry: rom-coms are all about this one crucial attribute. You must believe the two people are really into each other. As a couple, I suppose Beth and Nick work. But their characters are too dull, to the point where they have to rely on funny slapstick gags to keep us entertained. They’re not a bad couple, just not an interesting one.

Humor: I like rom-coms that rely on the actors’ body language and delivery and timing of dialogue and leave the sight-gags for just the right moments. “When in Rome” delivers the exact opposite. None of the actors have anything worthwhile to say, so they must be kicking champagne glasses onto power cords, falling in holes inexplicably placed on the sidewalk, hit by cars, stumbling over horse buggies, falling partway down the length of a building while painting a nude picture of someone and stopping right in front of the nasty parts, dining in a restaraunt set in pitch black where people are constantly bumping into each other and breaking dishes and of course, the obligatory shot of someone walking into a tree. I know I’m a guy and I’m a little biased to this kind of film, so let me just say that there were plenty of women young and old in the theater and not once was their anything above a minor snicker. Are you willing to spend $7.50 to snicker, when funnier reruns of “Friends” are on fifty different channels tonight?

Acting: I thought Bell and Duhamel did fine as the starring roles. My problem is that they weren’t given anything interesting to say, and very little to do. Beth and Nick needed to have more personality. Something to make the audience care about them and find them unique. Other than his physical appeal, Nick is nothing that special. I sometimes wondered if the other four lovestruck fools were simply written in there to make him seem more likable. Truth is, they were all more interesting… arguably the best part of the film!

One of my idols, the late, great Gene Siskel, once remarked that a movie should be more fascinating than watching the cast members have lunch together. When I look at the cast, including Bell, Duhamel, DeVito, Arnett, Heder, Shepard and also Anjelica Huston (who is hardly worth mentioning in this review), I think a two-hour lunch session would not only be more fascinating, it would be funnier.


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