When in Rome (2010)

After seeing Legion the previous week , I was thankful that, statistically, it was unlikely that I’d have to endure anything completely awful so very soon afterward. Unfortunately for me, I hit the horrible movie jackpot, and for the second week in a row I saw a movie that wasn’t worth the celluloid it was printed on.

When in Rome is a romantic comedy starring Kristen Bell as an overworked woman who winds up in Rome for her sister’s wedding. While there, she takes some coins from the fountain of love, thus making the original owners of the coins fall in love with her. Meanwhile, she struggles with her feelings for a charming guy she met at the wedding played by Josh Duhamel.

Something I didn’t know going into the movie that would have helped greatly is that it was written by the writers of Old Dogs. With that knowledge, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that there’s not a single original joke in the entirety of the film. Let me get the cliches out of the way. In fact, list form might be most appropriate:

  • Predictable and cheesy ending
  • Stereotypical friends, including “the fat one” “the weird, quirky assistant” and “the gay guy”
  • Everyone in the film (even the taxi driver) constantly talks about love and how Bell doesn’t have a boyfriend
  • Bell talks poorly of her ex, who’s standing right behind her
  • Bell can’t speak Italian, so Duhamel has to translate her wedding speech for a foreign audience (poorly) – “hilarity” ensues

There are many others, but I’m sure I’ll drop them throughout the review in prose form instead.

The lead actors are likable and struggle admirably through the horrible material they’re given. Kristen Bell is as cute as ever, though because of her giddiness I had a problem believing her to be a successful businesswoman. Josh Duhamel is very charming, and although he’s nearing 40, is still a hell of a good looking guy. He’s perfect material for romantic comedies, but the writers of When in Rome waste his talent by having his character unbelievably clumsy. Duhamel falls into manholes and walks into trees like it’s his job, and I guess we as the audience are supposed to ignore when he’s clearly nimble, like when he flips his phone in the air before putting it away. Duhamel needs to find a part that exploits not only his charm but also his impressive coordination.

The worst part about the story is that it’s one of those horrendously offensive romcoms that always seem to be written by a man about a woman. It’s where the woman is successful in her career, but happens to be single, which is made into the biggest problem of her life. Movies like this imply that women need men to be happy in their lives – here, Bell not only needs Duhamel as a lover, but she also needs him to break a vase for her, translate her speech, and even save her job (the one thing she’s supposedly good at in the movie). Stories like this are lazily misogynistic, the product of writers who can’t come up with good motivations for their characters.

Speaking of characters, the reason I was hoping this would be better than the trash that I routinely throw away was the supporting cast. Bell’s unwanted admirers who fall under her spell are played by Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, and Danny DeVito. I’m a huge fan of two of these actors, and the other two are enjoyable for the most part. Well, at least in other movies. In this one, all four of these men were put to waste.

Their characters are ridiculously simple and only provide a single joke each, repeated ad nauseum. Arnett is an Italian painter. So every scene he’s in, he’s painting. He has a horrendous Italian accent (explained away in the end by him not really being Italian, but still) and doesn’t produce a single chuckle. Danny DeVito is an old man who sells sausages. While he’s equally unfunny in the film, there was a moment or two where he at least seemed like an actual human being, which is more than I can say for the other three clowns.

Dax Shepard plays a model who is almost as in love with Bell as he is with himself. All of his lines just reference his impressive physical form. None of them are funny. And finally, Jon Heder ends up being the worst of the bunch. His character is a street magician. I don’t think I have to say anything else. Every single scene that the four stalkers are in just serve to remind the audience of their particular one dimension, and it’s old and unfunny before they’re all even done being introduced.

I’ll briefly comment on the other supporting actors in case anyone reading this wants to see the movie because of them. Anjelica Huston phones in a “bitchy boss” performance that could have been done by anyone who has seen Devil Wears Prada. Alexis Dziena is cute. And that’s all her character is given to do. Bobby Moynihan plays Duhamel’s friend, and pretty much just impersonates Jack Black whenever he’s on camera.

The only one worth mentioning in a positive light was involved in the singular scene that had me laughing. Flight of the Conchord‘s Kristen Schaal plays a waitress at a pitch-black restaurant, where the patrons are unable to see and the wait staff gets to wear night vision goggles. The scene was absurd and hilarious as Bell and Duhamel were forced to blindly grasp at things in the dark, all in a crowded public setting. Schaal added the perfect creepy element of hilarity. Yet even this scene unravels and devolves by the end into more unfunny cliches, as the stalkers track down Bell and invade the “Black Out” restaurant with their unfunny caricatures.

The film’s 90 minutes feels like twice that, and besides the restaurant scene, never garnered a single chuckle from me. Perhaps most telling of the film’s quality is its climax, where a clown car (exaggeratedly small in a jab toward European vehicles) drives through a building (with the help of real magic by Heder) and into an elevator. A clown car in an elevator. That was the film’s climactic punchline. If I wrote a film where that was the ultimate gag, I’d gladly hang up my writing hat, and never take it down again.

Despite an appealing cast, When in Rome shows that you just can’t do much with piss-poor writing. Without an original bone in its body, the film fails on every aspect, most strikingly in its humor. Despite its title, most of the film takes place in New York City. I suspect that the backers read the script and refused to front the money for location shooting. After all, why pay to visit an Italian bathroom when you can just go in the backyard and shoot the same piece of shit at home?

Final rating: 1/10

–James A. Janisse





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