Romantic comedies, at their best, offer an entertaining and relatable experience to the audience as they show characters initially hate each other then get involved in zany situations, before finally falling in love. At their worst, you get “When in Rome,” with its one-note characters and abysmal script. It fails on a lot of different levels, entertaining being one of them.
The movie focuses on work-obsessed museum curator Beth (Kristen Bell; Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Veronica Mars) who just can’t find the time for love and is reminded of that fact by her younger sister’s marriage in Rome. There she meets and falls for Nick (Josh Duhamel; Transformers, Las Vegas), who is obviously her exact opposite and the subject of a running gag that’s just south of mildly chuckle inducing. By way of perfunctory character actions and reactions we get to the movie’s gimmick, which involves Beth removing coins from a magical fountain and thus attracting the attention of the men who threw those coins. Hilarity ensues.
Just kidding, nothing of the sort happens.
What we get instead is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy from the director of such modern classics as “Daredevil” and “Ghost Rider” with a terrible script that bores you with its asinine predictability. Obviously, this isn’t the most experimental of sub-genres, but with so many other movies of this type coming out in any given year, you would expect people to at least try. Not here though. Then again, these guys did write the cinematic gem that is “Old Dogs.” The movie is just plain loaded with gags and jokes that amaze you with how flat they land. In fact, the whole production has the pulse of an unplugged heart-rate monitor.
The focus of the movie, like in all romantic comedies, is on the two leads. Both Bell and Duhamel are good-looking, charismatic actors, but they are given nothing to work with. Actually they are given worse than nothing; what they get is the recycled debris of earlier movies. The lines coming out of their mouths are the most overdone pieces of dialog that you might wonder if this whole affair was some elaborate parody. As if it was some sort of commentary on the inherent cliché that is the romantic comedy. This is all without mentioning that their supposed love is built on a night they didn’t spend together and a collection of non-witty banter. But of course they’re meant for each other.
One gag that works for a few moments is the scene in a restaurant where the customers are in the dark literally, because not being able to see would amplify their other senses, or some other corny reason. There was a certain charm that might have had a little to do with how cheap the night-vision effects were. It feels as if they just loaded up Final Cut Pro and turned the slider for green all the way to the right. Something about that encapsulated how cheap the whole movie was.
All of this is a shame, considering the cast of supporting actors on deck, specifically Danny Devito (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Will Arnett (Blades of Glory). Now these guys aren’t above doing schlocky material, but give them something to work with here. A good laugh did arise when Jon Heder (Blades of Glory) was unexpectedly reunited with a former cast member. Another highlight was Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live) as Nick’s best friend. He at least looked like he was having fun and was the source of a couple of laughs. However, these moments are few and far in between an otherwise barren desert of mediocrity.
In the end, “When in Rome” is the sum of its parts. Those parts being a script made out of dog-eared pages cobbled together from previously released romantic comedies, a quarter-baked “love” story, “comedy” routines that are dead on arrival, and a cast and crew going through the motions in order to simply cash their checks. No wonder they say romance is dead.