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Just another Rome-antic comedy

Article Published: Feb. 4, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Just another Rome-antic comedy

"I'll never forget you, Sarah Marshall." Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell star in When in Rome.

The Roman poet, Ovid, famously said, "Nothing is more powerful than habit."

He also said, "At night there is no such thing as an ugly woman," but that's beside the point.
Mainstream cinema is addicted to formula, a safe bet that feeds the unfortunate habit of unimaginative filmmaking.

Despite a gleefully silly premise, a solid comedic cast and two charismatic leads, the new romantic comedy, When in Rome, doesn't take long to fall off the wagon. A few laugh-out-loud moments keep it standing, but this film has a monkey on its back, fed with flat jokes leading to an all-too-predictable conclusion.

Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is Beth, a New York Guggenheim art curator who's been spurned by love one too many times. In one night, she learns her ex is getting married, as is her sister, Joan (Alexis Dziena, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist). To make matters even more interesting, Joan is getting married in Rome to Umberto (Luca Calvani, The International), an Italian fellow she'd met only two weeks before, and Beth is to be her maid of honor.

Irate, but begrudgingly happy for Joan, Beth journeys to Rome, where she's too preoccupied with her cell phone reception to notice anything but service bars. It's at the church, however, where she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel, Transformers), Umberto's hapless, but charming, best man.

Beth and Nick share a few things in common, in that they're both single, they both think the wedding's a ludicrous idea, and they're each clumsy in their own right - Beth socially and Nick physically.

They form a fast friendship, which, during the course of the night, creates a few romantic sparks, only for Beth to discover Nick kissing a drunken wedding-goer. This, of course, turns out to be completely innocent, one of Umberto's smitten relatives, but not wasting any time by thinking or, say, talking to Nick, the exasperated Beth grabs a bottle of wine and steps into the fictitious Fountain of Love, conveniently located outside the church, along with most of the other Roman landmarks.

Furious at love and fueled by vino, Beth proceeds to steal five coins from the fountain, attempting to prove that love doesn't come to everyone.

Little does she know, though, that her brash act is the subject of Roman legend - when a person steals someone's coins from this particular fountain, those who threw them in become romantically obsessed with the person who took their coins.

In this case, it's struggling street artist Antonio (Will Arnett, TV's Arrested Development), self-absorbed bodybuilder Gale (Dax Shepard, Idiocracy), awkward street magician Lance (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite) and self-proclaimed Sausage King Al (an uncredited Danny DeVito, Get Shorty), all of whom follow Beth to New York, where their romantic antics interfere with all aspects of her life.

When Beth finally learns the truth about Nick's drunken kiss, she falls for him yet again, only to discover that one of the five coins she retrieved could possibly be his. This brings their blossoming relationship to a standstill, as Beth wants Nick to love her of his own free will, rather than some fountain's magical contrivances.

But as is often the case with magic, nothing's always as it seems, and Beth must find a way to thwart her overly aggressive suitors, while learning whether or not Nick's love is genuine.
When in Rome works on some levels, namely the chemistry between Bell and Duhamel and a tongue-in-cheek plotline that knows better than to take itself seriously. A scene in which they visit a restaurant called the Blackout, where patrons dine in complete darkness to heighten their other senses, is both bizarre and hysterical, thanks in part to creepy waitress Kristen Schaal (TV's Flight of the Conchords).

On the other hand, the film gets bogged down by rom-com cliches - Beth's and Nick's support groups of obnoxious single friends; Beth's obliviousness to blatantly obvious plot devices; and the notion that a single woman in New York would not call the police when being aggressively stalked by four complete strangers. Heder's character even goes so far as to break into her apartment and emulate Houdini.

And for a film with Rome in its title, surprisingly little time is spent in the Eternal City. These brief moments there are filled with actors sporting phony, over-the-top Italian accents and fleeting glimpses of geographically misplaced landmarks. When in Rome suffers from misplaced potential, in what could have been a fresh and funny take on a tired formula.
All roads lead to Rome, but this one's more of a bumpy detour.

When in Rome, rated PG-13 for some suggestive content, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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