Ciao bellas, welcome to Rome! A place where the love-lorn wish for better luck by tossing coins into a fountain. The kind of city where a kid sister can marry a man she met just two weeks ago — no questions asked. The place where, it turns out, a pretty American workaholic can meet the good-looking, well-adjusted and cookie-cutter love of her life. When in Rome, it seems, has all the ingredients for a perfect romantic comedy.
Yet the film, which arrives in theaters today, is no ode to amore. The film stars Kristen Bell as the adorably dorky Beth, who works as an art curator in New York. Beth does things like get food in her teeth at inopportune moments, and spends a lot of time placating her boss Celeste (Angelica Huston) — who definitely owns The Devil Wears Prada on DVD. The irresistibly hunky Josh Duhamel plays Beth’s love interest Nick, an all-American guy’s guy who has a habit of walking into sign posts and being far too cute for this film.
Together, Bell and Duhamel have a well-balanced and significant presence that not only anchors Rome, but fuels their believable on-screen chemistry. Outside of their beleaguered romance, there’s not much to love. Beth’s troubles (and ours) begin soon after she meets Nick, when she picks up a handful of other people’s coins from the special fountain (see above). Her booze-soaked decision turns out to be a terrible one: Back in New York, she and the audience are soon stuck with four over-the-top-awful suitors whose coins she swiped in the fontana of poor choices.
The rag-tag group of spellbound guys is immediately unbearable. As they hound Beth for attention, tracking her down in her office, her living room and during a morning jog, each character is more overwrought than the next. From Jon Heder’s nutty magician to Dax Shepard’s narcissist model and Will Arnett’s stalker-artist, the characters are written and performed the point of play-acting, eviscerating whatever scrap of hope Nick and Beth gave us that Rome might be fun. Only Danny DeVito manages to rein in the writing with enough talent to approximate a person — at least until his character, a sausage magnate, starts chasing Beth around the Guggenheim.
Rome’s small oasis is a handful of scenes with Beth’s sister Joan (Alexis Dziena) and her new husband, Umberto (Luca Calvani). Dziena warms up this dour affair of a film upon arrival, brimming over with the joy that’s missing elsewhere. Lucky for Joan, once she and the smoldering Umberto get hitched they get to stay in Rome, far from Beth’s melodrama.
Unfortunately for the audience, there’s no such honeymoon. It’s so easy to root for Nick and Beth — if only When in Rome would give us a reason to keep on cheering.