We know that WHEN IN ROME is a fantasy because at the formal wedding that precipitates the action, such as it is, the wedding in the Catholic church in the titular Rome, the maid of honor wears a dress whose neckline plunges south to Naples and then some. Not that such a lack of verisimilitude matters in a bright and breezy romantic comedy, in fact, said lack might even be an asset. Alas, bright and breezy are nowhere to be found here. Neither is comedy.
The maid of honor is Beth (Kristin Bell), a curator at the Guggenheim Museum who has yet to find a relationship that hasn’t ended in pain. The wedding is of Beth’s sister (Alexis Dzienas), a flight attendant who has found true love in first class and is walking down the aisle two weeks later. Since weddings are places where emotions run high, when Beth spots the best man, Nick (Josh Duhamel), her second thought is how cute he is. Her first was how he managed to get such good cell phone reception. That’s so the audience can be reminded what a very dedicated workaholic Beth is. They flirt, they have a putatively comic interlude, and, naturally, there is a misunderstanding when Beth sees Nick with a woman in red and assumes he, like so many other guys, has been merely toying with her affections.
At wit’s end, she climbs into the conveniently located Fountain of Love outside the church and decides to save some of the poor schmoos who have wished for love by tossing a coin into the water by retrieving four of said coins. The result, each of those four people fall madly in love with Beth and, this being a fantasy, follow her back to New York, where they will stalk, harass, befuddle, and otherwise annoy our pert heroine as she attempts to save her career while avoid being hurt by love again.
Because this mess longs to be a mainstream hit, the four people, would-be edgy illusionist Jon Heder, starving artist Will Arnett, sausage king Danny DeVito, and delusional model Dax Shepherd, are all male and all of the Caucasian persuasion. And this plays directly into the contrived, overworked, underwritten, and painfully labored script. The wispy charms of Bell and Duhamel are simply no match for the lack of originality, ingenuity, and the lack of effort to find either of those things. Comedy comes in the guise of spinach-covered teeth, plot development in the form of a make-or-break gala, the which Beth is helming despite being the least experienced of the museum’s curators, and warmth from the inevitable confessional moments rendered by Bell, Duhamel, and even, heaven help us, Don Johnson, as Beth’s much-married and blowsy father. They are as predictable as the rest of the story and even less enjoyable.
WHEN IN ROME has the distinction of being not just an affront to movie goers, it’s also an affront to the Guggenheim Museum, at least one of which may never recover. This lifeless, joyless exercise in futility has exactly one redeeming element, a cameo by Heder’s NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE co-star Efren Ramirez as the magician’s videographer. While it was lovely to be reminded of a film worth watching, its not enough to cover the price of admission, or the waste of time that is the rest of the flick.