Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Although its premise is completely ridiculous, Mark Steven Johnson's (Daredevil) romantic comedy When in Rome delivers some memorable laughs, accomplishing just what it sets out to do.  Its star Kristen Bell, known primarily for her turn on television cult hit Veronica Mars, is still proving that she is a bankable film actress and thus far, she seems to be planting her seeds in the right gardens.  She has already starred in Box Office hits like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Couples Retreat. She is now working on Christina Aguilera and Cher-headlined musical Burlesque, due this fall. 

Bell plays Beth, an art curator who is married to her work.  Her younger sister Joan (Alexis Dziena) meets a handsome Italian, Umberto (Luca Calvani), and decides to marry him on a whim.  This results in Beth having to fly to Rome for the impromptu wedding, where she meets the strapping Nick (Josh Duhamel), the Best Man at the wedding.  Failing to fit in at the wedding, Beth gets discouraged and wanders out to a fountain as if this were Fellini's La Dolce Vita, where she picks up some tossed coins belonging to men who have wished for love.  As legend would have it, such an act would result in these men falling in love with the woman who claims their coins.  Hence, five coins = five not-so-secret admirers.  Beth however, only has feelings for one of them and that would be Nick.

The four other suitors are played by a superb supporting cast of comedic actors including Antonio (Will Arnett), Lance (Jon Heder), Gale (Dax Shepard) and Al (Danny deVito).  These gentlemen pull out all the stops to get in good with Beth including card tricks, a fake Italian accent, showing off an 8-pack of abs and more; all fail miserably.  David Diamond and David Wessman's script perhaps is at fault here as these four suitors don't have much diversity or range.  They all serve the same purpose and that is silly comic relief.  Really the same effect could have been achieved with just one suitor, minus all the story line clutter.  There was not enough focus on the dynamics of Beth and Nick's relationship for us to want to root for them to unite as a result of When in Rome's many plot distractions.  This is important in a romantic comedy - we have to root for the hero and heroine. Above all this, it is somewhat insulting to introduce the character of Priscilla (Peggy Lipton), Beth's mom who just suddenly disappears part way through the story after appearing to be a major player at the beginning.

Nonetheless, Bell proves to be quite likable and I would really like to see her step-up her game with some quality material.  Her style of acting is reminiscent of a younger Renée Zellweger and that it is a good thing.  Arnett is outright hilarious as a wannabe Italian artist, desperately in love with Beth and I did enjoy Australian actor Keir O'Donnell who plays Father Dino.  He is a chameleon of sorts who often appears in just minor roles, which is a shame.  Touchstone Pictures' When in Rome delivers light, campy fun and I admit to bursting out in laughter uncontrollably a few times  during the film's more ridiculous moments.  This film is by no means exceptional (even relative to other films in its genre) but it is enjoyable enough... perhaps as a rental or pay-per-view?  Grade: C

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