Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Anjelica Huston, Dax Shephard, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Danny Devito
Mark Steven Johnson
David Diamond, David Weissman
In a scenario similar to this weekend's other opening flick, the Mel Gibson led Edge of Darkness that was pretty much stolen by supporting player Ray Winstone, When in Rome may very well have been a darn fine flick had director Mark Steven Johnson and co-writers David Weissman and David Diamond chosen to focus the film on the character of Nick, an all around good guy sports reporter played by Josh Duhamel (the Transformer movies) with an abundance of goofy charm and a glib sense of humor. Unfortunately, When in Rome swirls around the world of Beth (Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), a young, bubbly curator at the Guggenheim Museum who kicks off our cinematic Italian vacation when she drunkenly plucks five coins from Italy's famed Fountain of Love, or a reasonable facsimile, and promptly gains the affection of the five rather unique chaps whose coins she plucked including a narcissistic model (Dax Shepard), a goofball street magician (Jon Heder), an artist (Will Arnett), a sausage king (Danny Devito) and, perhaps, the aforementioned Nick.
When in Rome is the kind of film that leaves you marveling that its creators continue to find work in Hollywood while so many gifted writers and directors toil away outside Hollywood. Director Mark Steven Johnson has already butchered two superhero flicks as writer and director, Daredevil and Ghost Rider, though his debut flick, Simon Birch, actually had a certain charm to it. Then, there's the even worse co-writing team of David Weissman and David Diamond, who've penned both the abysmal Old Dogs and the nearly abysmal Evolution.
Somehow, mostly on the strength of Duhamel's relatively winning performance and those of Beth's oddball suitors, When in Rome actually gets by and remains a relatively watchable, lightly funny and cute romantic flick.
Bell, who has found comic success as a supporting player, either is incapable of a female lead or simply needs to find a character more suited to her slightly placid demeanor. While she's believable as a workaholic curator, her office scenes aren't particularly interesting or entertaining and Bell is remarkably unconvincing the closer her character moves towards that ever elusive love that becomes more important than her work.
Duhamel, on the other hand, is far more adept at physical comedy and his facial expressions reveal the sort of good guy charm that works wonders in a romantic comedy and would have been infinitely more entertaining surrounded by a bit more comic substance.
Among the supporting players in When in Rome, Jon Heder and Dax Shepard clearly are having the most fun and leave the strongest impact. Heder seems to have carved himself a niche' as the slightly nerdy, modestly insecure goofball and he pulls off his scenes here with tremendous results (especially when a certain Napoleon Dynamite co-star shows up). Shepard, on the other hand, is simply a fearless comic actor completely willing to humiliate himself for the cause and his shamelessly self-promoting model is freakishly hilarious when he practically gasps out "I don't know whether to look at my own reflection or you. That's how beautiful you are."
Great, great line perfectly delivered.
Danny Devito also gives When in Rome a certain emotional core, while Will Arnett is his usual dependable self. When in Rome also features a few older familiar faces such as Don Johnson, Anjelica Huston and Peggy Johnson while a host of other cameos will likely elicit, at the very least, a smile or two.
John Bailey's camera work is fine throughout, while Kirk Petruccelli's production design is generally effective. Christopher Young's original score is appropriate rom-com material, though When in Rome features a wonderful soundtrack including tremendous cover of Bob Dylan's To Make You Feel My Love by Adele and a host of other hummable tunes that may make this soundtrack one to acquire.
By no means as delightful as last year's surprise hit The Proposal nor as godawful as Did You Hear About the Morgans?, When in Rome is a decent choice this opening weekend for those not wishing to experience yet another Gibson revenge flick nor James Cameron's narcissistic excesses. Cute and charming enough to pass for a matinee date, When in Rome won't necessarily cast a spell upon you but it should at least make you smile.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic