January 29, 2010

When in Rome

Totally abulous

Grade: F

Director: Mark Steve Johnson

Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Anjelica Huston, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Bobby Moynihan, and Danny DeVito

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

In the timewaster When in Rome, Josh Duhamel plays a sportswriter whose erstwhile football career ended when he was struck by lightning during a game. Amazingly, this ultimately irrelevant factoid is not the strangest part of this awful film – not by a long shot.

For starters, this latest cinematic IED from “director” Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider; Daredevil) is another incarnation of the insidiously fashionable premise of the hardnosed, talented working girl whose life is nonetheless an abject failure because she hasn’t gotten hitched yet. Let me say it here and now – henceforth, no film with this plotline will ever get a positive review out of me.

Oh, if only the incompetence stopped there. While in Rome for her sister’s whirlwind wedding to a stereotypical Italian hot-blood, Beth (Kristen Bell) – a chronically single New York City-based art curator – meets-cute with the hunk of her dreams, Nick (Josh Duhamel), at least until Beth spies Nick smooching some bella donna. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Italian lady in the red dress will turn out to be some friend or relative, and, thus, where the story of Beth and Nick is headed.

That, however, is when the banal turns bizarre. In a fit of self-pity, Beth pilfers three “magic” coins (and one poker chip) out of a Fountain of Love. Seems idiotic legend holds that doing so means the person who tossed it in will fall hopelessly in love with you.

Set aside the crippling coincidence that the four coins Beth pinches all belong to men living in New York City. What is just as off-putting as the folly that a woman is eternally deficient until she has a man steering her life’s ship is the notion that any man consumed with undying love is essentially a stalker. In Beth’s imbroglio, she must suffer the obsessive affections of a street magician (Jon Heder), an Italian sketch artist (Will Arnett), a sausage magnate (Danny De Vito), and an ad body model (Dax Shepard, the lone oasis in this comedic wasteland), all whom are able to track Beth down whenever and wherever.

Whose love is for real? Will Beth and Nick get together? How will I ever get back the 85-felt-like-185 minutes I spent watching this junk? Of course, what else should you expect besides a cinematic cow pie from the screenwriting team that brought us The Family Man, Evolution, and the retched Old Dogs?

This film’s surreal tenor is a slipshod stab at a Bollywood-style romantic farce, an allusion driven home by the song-and-dance routine the cast performs over the closing credits, which is a Bollywood staple. It’s the best part of When in Rome – the actors finally seem to be having some fun, and the audience finally gets to bolt for the theater exit.

Neil Morris

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