Who’s In It: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Dax Shepard, Will Arnett, Danny DeVito, Jon Heder, Anjelica Huston, Bobby Moynihan, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci, Lee Pace
The Basics: Single New Yorker Beth (Kristen Bell) is a Type A museum curator at the Guggenheim -- or as characters call it, “The Goog,” which is only one of many, many groan-worthy things about the film. She’s beautiful and skinny and all that, but is so consumed with her career that she’s got no time to date. (Deep down, she’s really just scared of getting hurt because, like everyone in this movie, she’s a walking cliché.) One drunken night after her sister’s Italian wedding, Beth impulsively steals five coins from a “fountain of love” and finds herself stalked by a gaggle of unsavory suitors back in New York, including a starving Italian artist (Will Arnett), a narcissistic male model (Dax Shepard), a diminutive businessman (Danny Devito), and a Goth street magician (Jon Heder). Well, there is one hottie in the bunch: Nick (Josh Duhamel), a handsome and charming former quarterback. But if he only loves Beth because she stole his wishing coin, then it was all a lie! Wah-wah…
What’s The Deal: From its trailer, you’d think this would be a run of the mill romantic comedy – girl messes with fate, fate gets revenge, hilarity ensues and nothing bad ever happens again. It is all that, but unfortunately When in Rome is also far worse than anyone could have anticipated. To their credit, every member of this sprawling cast is trying their best to walk away with some semblance of dignity, especially Kristen Bell and the irrepressibly dreamy Josh Duhamel. (Jon Heder, proving that his range only stretches so far from Napoleon Dynamite no matter in which direction he goes, is one exception.) Where When in Rome fails is in its inane, cliché-ridden script by the same guys who wrote Old Dogs (if that tells you anything) and even worse direction from Mark Steven Johnson, who somehow makes even on-location filming in Italy look like it was shot on a sound stage in Burbank. What else did you expect from the man who made Daredevil?
One Step Forward For Kristen Bell, One Giant Leap Backward For Womankind: Screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman (neither of whom, to my knowledge, is a woman) have done a fantastic job crafting the most condescending female lead and story in recent memory. Bell’s Beth is gorgeous, yes – that’s a requirement in the movies – and she’s smart, gainfully employed and ambitious. So naturally, she’s the one who needs to be taught a lesson. (As in The Princess and The Frog, the lesson is that working women have to lighten up and let love in – or spend their lives bitter and alone.) And so, Beth must be saved by her man: Nick smashes an Italian wedding vase because she can’t (granted, she’s about 90 lbs. wet), salvages her awful bridesmaid speech by speaking Italian, and is there for Beth to cling to when the room goes dark. He even steps in to save her career, for goodness sake, and that’s the one thing she’s actually good at. Her frosty boss (Anjelica Huston) even says so!
Ham-Fisted Direction For Dummies: Here’s how bad the direction is: Johnson actually uses an audible record scratch to bring a party to a screeching halt. He thinks making Kristen Bell talking with spinach in her teeth is funny. When a character flies from New York to Italy, he conveys this by showing an animated airplane flying over a graphic map of the Atlantic. Similarly, he uses the worst CGI ever to open the film by jumping in and out of “postcards” from Italy. Later, someone races against the clock to get across town. In a traffic jam. IN THE RAIN. And in a final insult to his cast, Johnson forces them to pretend to dance joyously in an end credits dance sequence that only makes you think, Sweet Jesus, set these people free!
WTF? Moments I Thought Were Promising That Turned Out To Be False Alarms: When Danny DeVito introduces himself as “The Sausage King,” but never mentions Abe Froman. The transgressive shock of Jon Heder pulling a beating, bloody heart out of his chest while trying to impress Kristen Bell with a card trick; it’s the single most interesting and random thing that happens the entire movie. Oh, except for the out-of-nowhere cameo by Napoleon Dynamite’s Efren Ramirez, which trumps the totally boring “we had to get dudes into seeing When in Rome somehow” cameos by Shaquille O’Neal and Lawrence Taylor.
Don’t Even Think About Comparing It To: The 1954 husband-hunting classic Three Coins in the Fountain, on which this miserable rom-com is loosely based.