As a guy it’s tough when I draw the occasional odd film pick to review. The latest example of such? When in Rome. Starring Kristen Bell, better known to many as Veronica Mars, the show she starred in and picked up a pretty decent following from. Thus far in her career, she has built up a pretty decent body of work. She hasn’t yet taken the easy way out, or at least as far as I can recall. Sure some may argue that last year’s Couples Retreat was a bit of a miss, but she surrounds her self with good talent when it’s weaker material and she consistently turns in a solid performance.
Such as the case with When in Rome. Being a romantic comedy I was ready to walk in to cliche after cliche, groan after groan for it’s 91 minute or so run time. It didn’t help that it’s from the writers of 2009’s Old Dogs. In addition, it had the odd direction choice of Mark Steven Johnson. Johnson, in case you forgot, directed some of the campier less well received Marvel comic character films of the mid 2000’s. Those would include 2003’s Daredevil, 2007’s Ghost Rider, and the unforgivably bad 2005 Elektra; thus my hopes weren’t high. However, with Bell in the lead I was holding on to whatever slim hope remained that she had the sense to steer clear of a complete stinker and pick something witty and funny, and with some real luck, something that approached the excellent 2008 Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
So what did I get? A little bit of the expected and a bit of the unexpected. To be sure this is no Sarah Marshall. However, until the third act this is a pretty decent, cute and pretty funny romantic comedy. The basic premise revolves around Beth (Bell). The dedicated young professional who has put her career first thus far in life. After a particularly embarrassing moment she is prepared to marry her job until her sister informs her that she is engaged and the wedding in Rome is a few days away. Arriving in Rome for her sister’s wedding, she meets the accident-prone Nick, played by Josh Duhamel. She feels herself falling for Nick, and it’s believable as Bell and Duhamel have some great chemistry on screen, only to catch him with and kissing another women. Casting off her thoughts for him, she in turn throws her self into a fountain that is linked with a myth. The fountain is known for those wishing for love to toss coins into it. She removes several coins making fun of the myth only to have the five men whose coins she took fall madly obsessively in love with her.
What follows are the mad cap pursuits of five suitors or six if you include Nick. The cast is filled with some pretty good comedic talent including Will Arenett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, and Danny Devito. There is also a cameo that you will either get and find funny or find cheesy depending on your fandom of a more recent film; all do a pretty good job given the material. There is also a bit of a bromance going on with Nick and his co-worker/friend Puck, played by Bobby Moynihan a current Saturday Night Live cast member. He goes out of his way to make sure that Beth is right for his buddy as he goes “black ops” on her.
Most of the suitor’s characters are paper thin, to wit, the plot synopsis tells you everything you’ll learn about them in the film. I enjoyed the fact that none of them were the perfect dashing charmer/normal guy. Each of them had quirks to their character even Nick. That is playing against the typical Rom-Com styling rules and a welcome change of pace. The jokes come at a pretty rapid fire pace until the third act where I really got taken out of the picture.
As Beth begins to realize what she has done she sets out to undo it. She also questions if what she wants is actually real or just another tossed coin from a fountain. The film gets a little heavy at this point and all comedy is pulled almost completely out of the picture. It in turn starts tugging on heart strings with lots of “aww” type moments. This ultimately pulled me out of the picture as it gets pretty sappy and nearly falls into cliche territory, which is a shame really since otherwise much like it’s adorable star, its a cute movie until the final act.
I give When in Rome 2.5 Vespa made more than just scooters out of a possible 5.
By John Coovert