Within the first ten minutes of my viewing of When in Rome, I knew the next 81 minutes of my life were going to be painful and feel like an eternity. Repeatedly, I had to remind myself that there had to be a comedic or romantic moment hidden away somewhere in the bowels of the film that would make it all worth it. After all, Kristen Bell is cute, but the brain trust behind this movie couldn’t possibly have thought her cuteness was enough to be the only attraction. Could they?
They could. But if you’re a betting man, I suppose one out of two ain’t bad! Bell it turns out is pretty much the only palatable part of the movie (even though the role she plays is reduced to something slightly more than an idiot). There is but one funny moment in this romantic comedy; two perhaps, if you stretch the meaning of funny to its very limits.
While is it would be easy to tear the film down on its absurd premise alone, I won’t since writers David Diamond and David Weissman obviously meant for it to be a whimsical fantasy roller coaster ride. A speeding roller coaster, mind you, in which annoying people are taking a ride.
Those annoying people meant to entertain come in the form of a street magician Lance (Jon Heder), a painter Antonio (Will Arnett), a wanna-be model Gale (Dax Shepard), and a sausage entrepreneur Al (Danny DeVito). They all find themselves smitten with Beth Harper (Bell) and are willing to do outrageous acts for her attention. I can’t necessarily fault them since their actions aren’t theirs — they’re all affected by an enchantment by the Goddess of Love, Venus. Upon scooping their wish coins from a fountain of love, Beth unwittingly caused these hapless suitors to chase her for her affections. Poor Beth, however, really wants Nick (Josh Duhamel) the best man at her sister Joan’s (Alexis Dziena) wedding.
As you can probably guess by now, When in Rome is just a string of dumb sequences preceding another scene of as dumb, if not dumber content. And everything is purposefully a setup for the next act too, laid out so obviously that it questions the intelligence of the viewer. The lone funny scene comes when Nick and Beth go to dinner at Blackout — a restaurant that has its patrons eating in the pitch dark. Ingeniously, the servers wear night vision goggles and, standing inches away from the unsuspecting diners, eavesdrop on conversations. Kristen Schaal is a scene stealer here and almost singlehandedly makes up for this childish mess of a movie. Keir O’Donnell, as gambling obsessed Father Dino, tries to spruce up the wedding with a silly accent and misspeaks but only with limited success.
The payoff for a romantic comedy, no matter how daft the setup is, is whether there is any believable chemistry between the leads. Again, When in Rome fails to deliver. Sure Bell and Duhamel are two good looking people but that’s where it all ends. It is a serious stretch to see these two come together at the end — especially after seeing how absurd each acts throughout in front of and to each other.
No doubt, it will take an act of God to manage to find a new twist on the used and abused rom-com genre. With the utmost of authority I can say When in Rome is no plague of locusts, although come to think of it, the outcome is nearly the same.