I have a thing against movies whose posters feature characters nibbling their fingers, which immediately and unfortunately puts Kristen Bell‘s When in Rome in my crosshairs. It’s not empty, irrational hatred, however. A small stable of recognizable faces in supporting roles cannot save this utterly vapid romantic comedy fable pitched at some fantasy demographic of young professional women who value love seemingly only as a commodity, another box to check off on a very long and modern to-do list. That the film’s plot is malarkey through and through is perhaps expected, but that it is delivered in such thunderously obvious strokes pushes it from merely bad to nearly intolerable in certain stretches.
Beth (Bell, above) is an ambitious, cautious-in-love junior curator at the Guggenheim Museum. On a trip to Rome for her impulsive younger sister’s wedding, she meets best man Nick (Josh Duhamel). The two share a dance and a spark, but Beth gets it in her head that he has a girlfriend. Consoling herself with a bottle of champagne, she fitfully grabs a handful of coins from a local fountain, magically igniting the passion of those who threw them in. Pursued back to New York by a widowed sausage magnate (Danny DeVito), a street magician (Jon Heder), a would-be painter (Will Arnett) and a self-admiring model (Dax Shepard), Beth must sort out whether Nick’s continued advances are real, or part of the same band of zany suitors.
Falling in love abroad seem to be particularly en vogue, if a recent spate of Hollywood romantic comedies are to be believed (see My Life in Ruins and Leap Year). Saddled with clunky expository dialogue and baffling character motivations, however, When in Rome has only two settings: broad, and broader. The film’s one potentially amusing bit — in which Nick takes Beth to a pitch-black restaurant, in which the lack of sight is supposed to be part of the dining experience, heightening other senses — is botched and rushed. Even within the movie’s wearying fantastical conceit there is no interior logic. Lazily and inexplicably, when it comes time for Beth to dismiss the suitors, they magically show up as a group at her apartment — apparently knowing of one another, and having little or no competitive impulse.
Easy-on-the-eyes leads Bell and Duhamel mostly escape judgment on the strength of their smiles. Through sheer force of will several bit players, most notably Shepard, breathe life into their scenes of assertive come-on. A litany of strange cameos, along with a fervently pitched dance-along by the entire cast over the end credits, all seems desperately designed to create the impression that someone is having fun. It’s certainly not the audience, however.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, When in Rome comes to DVD on a dual-layer disc in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. Optional Spanish and French tracks are included, as well as subtitles in all three languages. The disc’s bonus features consist of a pair of music videos — “Starstrukk,” from 3OH!3, featuring Katy Perry, and “Stupid Love Letter,” from Friday Night Boys — as well as three minutes of bloopers which should serve as a professional suicide reel for the movie’s propmasters. Three-plus minutes of deleted scenes round things out. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D (Movie) C- (Disc)