In When in Rome, the new romantic comedy from writer, director and Minnesota-native Mark Steven Johnson, a woman who’s all but given-up on romance travels to Rome where she takes coins from “The Fountain of Love” to spare the lonely from the inevitable failure of the relationships for which they’re wishing.
Only days before a troubled art exhibit is set to open for benefactors at the Guggenheim, curator Beth Harper (Kristen Bell) takes off to attend her sister’s wedding in Rome. After being jilted by someone she meets there (Josh Duhamel), Beth climbs into the town’s fountain and ceremoniously removes coins with the hopes of saving others from her fate.
Now, back in Manhattan, quirky strangers are stalking her, madly in love because she possesses the coins that they tossed back in Rome. Someone else has fallen for her, too: that perfect guy who jilted her. Turns out it was all a big misunderstanding. But does he love her for real, or only because she pulled his ducat from the fountain?
To borrow from the vernacular of the title city, When in Rome is a fiasco! Johnson gave us an original story all right (the Hastings native also penned Grumpy Old Men), but it’s agonizing to watch. Bell and Duhamel are excusably adequate. The film, instead, relies on comic relief from the likes of Jon Heder (David Blaine-wannabe street magician Lance), Dax Shepard (male model Gale, who, to be fair, gets funnier the more self-absorbed he gets), Will Arnett (Italian artist Antonio), and Danny DeVito (sausage king Al Russo). Don Johnson (!) co-stars and Heder’s Napoleon Dynamite yang, Pedro (Efren Ramirez) has an unnecessary cameo. If they really needed a nod to the 2004 indie cult favorite, why not have Uncle Rico compete with Heder for Beth?
It’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen, it just feels like that sometimes -- like the exceptionally long scene at the “Blackout Restaurant” where the couple dine in complete darkness and no one, except the waiters who wear night vision goggles, can see a thing; or Beth’s bug-eyed friend, Stacy (imagine that scene in Casino where Joe Pesci has a guy’s head in a vise; now imagine that head is a perky quipping twenty-something BFF).
There are some fun moments. For example, though Heder’s hand-waving shtick gets old almost immediately, his pratfall on the window-washing platform is a laugh-out-loud moment. And then there’s the … uh, hmm … no, I think that was it.
Y’know, I always try to find something good in a film so for this one, let’s just say, I’m still looking!