When I saw the trailer for "When in Rome," I laughed like crazy.
I wish the movie were as funny.
In one of the bonus features, director Mark Steven Johnson ("Simon Birch," "Ghost Rider") said "the great thing about this movie is that it's a magic movie. There's a spell going on, which gives you full license to go crazy."
Trouble is, I didn't think he went crazy enough. Compared to other romantic comedies, "When in Rome" feels a little play-it-safe. Though it's billed as being "from the studio that brought you 'The Proposal,"" there isn't the same energy or chemistry between Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel as there was between Sandra Bullock and Andrew Paxton.
That wasn't enough to keep my wife and kids from enjoying it. As romantic comedies go, this one, rated PG-13, is pretty tame, but they still gave it a 7 out of 10. The sour-grapes Rotten Tomatoes critics were at the other end of the meter, with the average rating a meager 3.3 out of 10. Are you kidding me?
I'm firmly in the middle. "When in Rome" is an entertaining-enough romantic comedy that just doesn't deliver on the promise of its trailer. It's sweet, it's funny in spots, but it's also predictable. Beth (Bell), a workaholic Guggenheim Museum curator who's still smarting after the guy who dumped her did so again a year later, goes to Rome for her younger sister's wedding. Joan (Alexis Dziena, "Entourage") met Umberto (Luca Calvani) just two weeks ago, and already she's tying the knot--like her father (Don Johnson), who's latest romance is with a towering volleyball player a third of his age.
But this should have been called "When in New York," because director Johnson and writers David Diamond and David Weissman ("Old Dogs") rush through Rome to get back to the Big Apple. Too bad, because some of the funniest material comes in "The Proposal"-like culture clashes and fish-out-of-water sequences we see in the Roman segments--which were really shot in Rome. Beth starts to become enamored with Nick (Duhamel), a tall, good-looking American who helps her through some difficult situations at the wedding, but sinks right back into poor-me mode when she sees him kissing another woman. What else is there to do but get drunk, wade into the Fontana de Amore, and pluck out coins from men who threw them in, wishing for true love? And the magic to which Johnson referred comes the moment Beth drops the coins in her purse. Instantly, each man becomes smitten with her, though she's not within sight of any of them.
Then it's a quick jump cut to New York, where Beth finds herself pursued by a wealthy older (and shorter) sausage king (Danny DeVito), a would-be painter (Will Arnett), a cheesy magician similar to the one played by Arnett in "Arrested Development" (Jon Heder), and a conceited male model (Dax Shepard). It's jarring, really, to see these guys pop up in New York, and if you consider a twist at the end (don't worry, I won't reveal anything) there's also a logical problem in having the coins physically compel them to travel across the Atlantic to compete for Beth's attentions.
The bulk of the film follows their stalker-like attempts to pursue her, while Beth works on trying to set up an important show at the Guggenheim--one that could mean her job.
Most of the comedy comes from the suitors, but Nick's friend, Puck (Bobby Moynihan, "SNL") also has some funny moments as the confidante. Same with Kate Micucci ("'Til Death," "Scrubs") as the female BFF. But you can't help but think that the filmmakers could have pushed the premise a little harder to squeeze a little more humor out of it. Once the pursuit gag has been played, its as if no one could think of a truly funny line to work as the scene's kicker. The result is a romantic comedy that's more amusing than the laugh-out-loud funny movie trailer. Part of the problem is that some of these talents were wasted. DeVito definitely could have had more to do. So could Arnett, whose facial expressions and reaction shots betray a comic just waiting to unleash himself, if only the script had given him things to do that were as wild as his eyes. And the casting of the priest? I probably look and sound more Italian.
But "When in Rome" isn't a bad movie, by any means. The acting is competent, the location filming adds interest, and the direction isn't too heavy-handed. Sometimes Johnson tends to reinforce the obvious with a shot, but for the most part this cute film moves briskly along, following the romantic comedy formula to the letter and providing just enough laughs to make it worthwhile entertainment. You just walk away from it thinking that it could have been zanier, and that Bell and Duhamel could have clicked a little more than they do.
Except for one car scene, the picture quality is very good. Skin-tones are true, colors are bold and lush, edge detail is strong, and there's a nice sense of 3-dimensionality. "When in Rome" is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and "enchanced" for 16x9 televisions.
The audio is the standard Dolby DTS-HD MA 5.1 that's rapidly becoming the standard, and reproduction of voices is exceptional. The bass end doesn't have much rumble, but then again this isn't an action movie . . . well, except when they're trying to break a vase for good luck. The dialogue, music, and effects are well modulated. No complaints here.
There's frankly not much in the way of bonus features. There's a 12-minute featurette on "Crazy Casanovas" featuring the would-be suitors on-set talking about the film, along with seven minutes of deleted scenes, seven minutes of music videos ("Starstrukk" by 30H!3 featuring Katy Perry and "Stupid Love Letter" by Friday Night Boys), a three-minute blooper reel, a three-minute extended scene, and a seven-minute clip showing an alternate opening and ending. The most interesting moment comes from the director, who explains the suitors. "We wanted each to embody one of the traits that people look for in an ideal mate: Successful (DeVito's character), Creative (Arnett's), Mysterious (Heder's), Handsome (Shepard's), and Faithful (Duhamel's).
"The Proposal" was a better reluctant hook-up romantic comedy, but "When in Rome" is still fun to watch, especially if you're into romantic comedies.