When In Rome

Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell in "When in Rome"

It is too easy to slam a movie as ineptly conceived, written, shamelessly contrived and directed as “When in Rome.”  “When in Rome” is more than just a bad movie.  It is so insipid that it is a virtual symposium on how not to make a screwball comedy.  To begin with there is no convincing motivation for anything that happens.  Even in a light, nutty comedy there has to be a credible dramatic need that drives the story.  Otherwise you wind up with wackiness for the sake of wackiness which, as this film demonstrates, is simply tiresome.   When I reviewed the movie “Extraordinary Measures,” a few weeks back, I talked about the need to have consumer protection for moviegoers.    Consider “When in Rome” to be exhibit B.

“When in Rome” stars Kristin Bell, of TV’s “Gossip Girl,” as Beth a young woman who does not believe in love.  When in Rome for her sister’s wedding Beth takes some coins from a wishing fountain, an action which inadvertently releases a spell over the loveless men who threw the coins into the fountain wishing for love.  Beth returns to New York with the coins only to be stalked by this group of men who have now fallen in love with her and somehow knew to follow her to New York.  One of these men is played by Danny DeVito.  Seeing the 65 year-old DeVito pawing the twenty something Bell goes beyond comedy to just plain creepiness.   The other men include a magician, an artist and a model.  Their attempts to woo Beth are so desperate, juvenile and over the top that any woman would have hired a bodyguard, in addition to going into hiding, by the film’s second reel.  The suitors are underdeveloped characters who are just there, frankly, to behave stupidly.  The film tries to make them comical but they are beyond irritating.  The story’s main love interest, Nick (Josh Duhamel), who Beth meets at her sister’s wedding, has a tendency to walk into posts and fall into a cellar.  Ha, ha.  There is also a back story about Nick once having been struck by lightning, which somehow figures in the film’s incomprehensible conclusion.

“When in Rome” has a completely unmotivated “madcap” climax where Beth and her suitors race to the Guggenheim Museum.  They are all crammed into a small Italian car.  The driver drives the car right into the museum.  Forget for a moment that there is no convincing story motivation for any of this.  Now imagine that you are the director of this movie.  Wouldn’t any director shooting this sequence, and possessing the slightest visual sense, want to have a scene where the car drives up the Guggenheim Museum’s famous circular ramp that goes from the bottom of the museum to its top?  Otherwise why even set the scene in the Guggenheim?  Well this movie cops out by having the car drive into the Guggenheim’s elevator instead.  One can only guess that budgetary constraints, or maybe the Guggenheim’s understandable decision not to allow such a pointless movie to be shot on its premises, caused this lame improvisation.

The movie ends with a “Bollywoodesque” curtain call where the cast dances during some of the end credits.  While the sequence is certainly energetic it also unintentionally highlights how completely unearned it is.

When in Rome, director Mark Steven Johnson, 2010,Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 91 minutes, rated PG-13


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on February 13, 2010, in Comedy, What were they thinking?. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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