Cursed with a preposterous plot
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Jan. 29, 2010
It doesn't make sense that Kristen Bell should have trouble finding a date with a decent guy. The actress, who made her name on "Veronica Mars," is cute, funny and talented. She, or any character she plays, should have eligible bachelors beating down her door.
In "When in Rome," a creakily contrived romantic comedy, she does. Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard and Danny DeVito [note to copy desk: that last name is not a typo] all play characters who fall profoundly in love with Bell's Beth, a chronically lovelorn curator at the Guggenheim Museum who returns from her sister's wedding in Rome to find herself suddenly pursued by more suitors than she knows what to do with.
The thing is, they're all losers. Arnett's an artist with a bad Italian accent; Heder's a David Blaine-y street magician; Shepard's a narcissistic male model; and DeVito's a purveyor of what he calls "encased meat," a.k.a. sausage (not to mention 65 years old).
The other thing is this: None of these dudes is really smitten with Beth at all. Instead, all four are under some kind of magic spell resulting from the fact that Beth removed coins they threw into a fountain in Rome -- a wishing fountain said to bring love to those who toss a bit of change into it, but also said to curse anyone who steals a coin by making the coin's owner fall madly in love with the thief.
Beth, meanwhile, is also being pursued by Nick (Josh Duhamel), a charming sportswriter she met at the wedding, and for whom she's also starting to develop a few warm, squishy feelings of her own. After she learns about the curse, she comes to believe that Nick, like the others, is merely bewitched and that he doesn't actually like her.
The problem is not the credulity-stretching script. Or even that much of the movie just isn't all that funny. The problem is that it thinks it's freakin' hilarious. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson ("Ghost Rider") from a script by David Diamond and David Weissman, "When in Rome" has the smirky sense of someone at a party who's had a bit too much to drink and who laughs too hard at his own jokes, killing even the ones that are clever.
To be sure, there are some small pleasures to be had. Bobby Moynihan is a winning presence as Nick's impish, and aptly named, best friend, Puck. Kristen Schall is delightfully off-kilter as a night-vision-goggled waitress in a restaurant whose sole selling point is that the food is served in pitch darkness. And of all the suitors, Shepard steals the show with his egregious egomania.
These bit actors, and a few others, light up the screen when they're on. As pretty as they are, Bell and Duhamel just can't muster the same energy, given the film's preposterous insistence that they forgo the happiness they so obviously deserve until the closing credits. I'd gladly steal a few coins from that fountain myself, if it would pay to relocate the entire supporting cast to another movie.
Contains some mildly naughty still photos and suggestive art work.