Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson | 87 minutes | comedy, romance | Actors: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Anjelica Huston, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci, Peggy Lipton, Luca Calvani, Keir O’Donnell, Bobby Moynihan, Kristen Schaal, Judith Malina, Lee Pace
The title “When in Rome” suggests a light-hearted, quaint (because of its location), and perhaps charming or romantic film. Also, the way Kristen Bell looks at you from the DVD or Blu-ray cover – cheerful and slightly mischievous -, the eclectic cast of old-timers and possibly interesting Hollywood B trimmings, and the fantastic elements in the plot give the impression that ‘When in Rome ‘could be an entertaining genre piece. People who think this for a moment should be disillusioned immediately, because “When in Rome” is pretty much the opposite of charming, quaint, and entertaining. It is a predictable, poorly written, poorly portrayed, unbelievable romantic comedy, without humor or romance.
To come back to the title once again: the film is hardly set in Rome. Beth visits this romantic city full of culture and history for her sister’s wedding, but of course it is important for the film that she meets her romantic object there and sets the absurd plot premise in motion. In no time, however, she is back on a plane to America. Sin. Perhaps the director was not allowed to film for that long, but you would think that when you have such a photogenic city at your disposal, and you decide to use the most generous widescreen format, some breathtaking images should emerge. But no, most of the time in Rome takes place inside a cathedral, with shots of the fountain of love that is important to the plot, and ahead, some (very) hasty shots of the colosseum and the old center. Even the average postcard shows more of the city. Anyway, a grumpy ear who will pay attention to that, perhaps. After all, a romantic comedy is not (necessarily) about beautiful filming, but about an appealing love story and fun characters.
Unfortunately, things already go wrong with the love story. Not only is it very coincidental and convenient that the coins Beth takes from the fountain are all belonging to people in her immediate vicinity, the antics of, and confrontations with these figures are simply – with a few exceptions – not funny and distract from the love story and personal dilemmas of the main character herself. On the other hand, it’s not too bad that the main characters’ attention is diverted, since their story is bland and predictable, the dialogues are artificial, and there is no chemistry involved. The latter is mainly due to Josh Duhamel, who may be just too plum when his face is half under the sand and an army helmet hidden in “Transformers”, but is not at home when something of emotions needs to be communicated. At least the sporadic times he smiles can be made into something, but for most of the film he seems to be walking around completely indifferent. Of course it is an understandable choice to bring two beautiful Hollywood people together in a rom-bowl, but some acting talent is a must. Kristen Bell is also not brilliant in the film, but she does considerably better than her male counterpart. She has more natural charm and more flair for slapstick scenes, which are often used haphazardly and – in Duhamel’s case – unsuccessfully (scenes with Duhamel walking in a pit or against a lamp post are not highlights).
Despite the overall poor quality of the film, there are some more or less successful comedic moments. Beth breaking her heel to conclude a humiliating incident; a race through New York with five men in a Fiat 500, ending in the elevator of an office building (where Beth asks from the car if the elevator boy wants to press the button for the fifth floor); Beth’s frantic attempts to break a stubborn vase; and a few attempts at decorating by a surprisingly funny Dax Shepard (like a snooty model) still provide some bright spots. And while Nick’s (Duhamel) sidekick, Bobby Moynihan, especially gets on your nerves with his Jack Black / Silent Bob-esque shtick, Beth’s fresh and fruity buddy in the movie, played by newcomer Kate Micucci, makes you curious about more. . Maybe a bigger part, in a better movie. At least such a discovery would not make When in Rome a completely pointless endeavor. For entertainment you just have to be elsewhere.