WHEN IN ROME
*** (out of 5)
January 29, 2010
Kristen Bell as BETH
Josh Duhamel as NICK
Angelica Huston as CELESTE
Will Arnett as ANTONIO
Jon Heder as LANCE
Dax Shepard as GALE
Alexis Dziena as JOAN
Kate Micucci as STACY
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
While Hollywood releases romantic comedies throughout the year, it seems that January is tailor-made for them. Part of this is because Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, but in general these kind of films do well no matter what time of year it is. And, considering there’s thin competition from new releases in the first month of the year, you can expect two or three to get released at this time.
We’ve already had “Leap Year,” and now we have the more traditional “When In Rome.” The film follows Beth (Kristen Bell), a curator at the Guggenheim who travels to Rome for his sister’s sudden wedding. There, Beth meets the charming but clumsy Nick (Josh Duhamel), and there’s a potential spark of love. However, when she sees him kissing another woman, Beth decides to steal some romantic luck of her own by pulling some coins from a famous wishing fountain. In accordance with local legend, this causes the owners of these coins to fall in love with her and follow her back to America.
The movie represents a turn for director Mark Steven Johnson, whose previous films centered on Marvel superheroes (Daredevil and Ghost Rider, to be exact). It also represents a relatively mainstream turn for star Kristen Bell, who until now has played in more genre-specific roles like NBC’s “Heroes” and the WB’s “Veronica Mars.” She tested the water with date movies in the male-centric “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and the ensemble film “Couple’s Retreat.” Now, she gets her own rom com to prove herself to be the next Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon.
For the most part, Bell fits in the romantic comedy formula. Likewise, her romantic foil Josh Duhamel is likeable on screen. I can’t say that they pop off the screen, but they’re both attractive people and have a decent amount of chemistry. This will gnaw at many a critic, but the estrogen-infused target audience will eat both actors up.
However, like many light romance films like this, it’s the supporting cast that drew most of my attention. It doesn’t start out that way, with Beth’s three work friends fitting too much into the stereotypes (i.e., the fat girl, the weird girl and the gay guy). And dropping the near-unrecognizable Peggy Lipton in as Beth’s mom and the all-too-recognizable Don Johnson as her dad doesn’t help.
Once the ball starts rolling and you get past the set-up you knew from the trailers, things improve a bit. This comes courtesy of the four suitors that stalk Beth. These guys are hilarious, and they include Will Arnett as a frustrated artist, Jon Heder as a frustrated magician, Danny DeVito as a well-to-do sausage manufacturer and Dax Shepard as an egomaniacal male model.
Did you hear that folks? I said I actually liked Dax Shepard in a film. The apocalypse can now start.
The best comedy moments come from the wacky stalkers, but unfortunately they’re not in the film all that much. Around them, the script seems somewhat half-baked, putting the characters in some freakishly bizarre moments, including a lights-out restaurant and a strange mini car chase. This makes things seem forced almost to the breaking point.
But the movie does hold together… barely. It’s not to be taken too seriously, and like I said, the target rom com audience is going to eat this up.