SC reviews: When in Rome

By Shu ChiangMovies - 26 March 2010 4:30 PM | Updated 01 April 2010

SC reviews: When in Rome

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Rating: 2 out of 5

In real life, Josh Duhamel may be a cool, even romantic guy. After all, his wife, the gorgeous Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, must have been charmed by something in the former Las Vegas star.

Opposite cutie-pie Kristin Bell in this supposed romantic comedy, however, he seems to require lessons on how to be a charismatic leading man. (He should consult that rascal George Clooney.)

Duhamel’s strange nice-guy act here has him speaking in soft, dulcet tones, in a nearly whiney puppy-dog manner. This should be enough to make most women, not least the high-powered career-minded go-getter played by Bell, wretch.

The miscasting of Duhamel – comic flair nowhere in sight – is just one of a long list of ailments afflicting this film directed by Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider, Daredevil) and also starring Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard – Bell’s real-life fiancé – and Danny Devito.

The four funnymen, funnier in other films, play a scrum of suitors who start stalking Beth (Bell), a Guggenheim art curator, after she drunkenly picks up five coins from a legendary fountain of love in Rome (modelled no doubt on the famed Trevi Fountain).

According to her newly married sister, whose Roman wedding is where Beth meets hunky journalist Nick (Duhamel), picking up the coins – in a manner not quite akin to that classic La Dolce Vita scene – is a recipe for disaster and hocus-pocus reason for the rash of stalkings.

(One wonders if robbers who steal coins from wishing fountains ever have this problem, and why dating agencies don’t utilise magical wishing fountains more.)

Apart from the fact that her other suitors are all rather creepy, Beth is only receptive to the advances of Nick, who is persistent and conveniently resourceful, literally stepping in when she encounters trouble at work. She needs an exclusive art work after plans go awry; he arrives inexplicably to announce he has access to an exclusive art work – like magic.

Such simple plot advancements are customary in this sort of standard no-brainer rom-com, and could have been more forgivable if the stars were more likeable. Bell may be one of the ‘it’ actresses of the moment, but she does not quite possess the affability of an Ellen Page or Drew Barrymore.

As for romance, this film relies on fairly unimaginative instrumental music to indicate to the audience which moments are indeed ‘romantic’. When Beth utters “I love Nick!” as if the speaking of such words immediately convinces her of their veracity, you know true romance is out of stock here.

Long before the typical ‘chase’ finale that requires one of the two would-be lovers to rush to the other, in this case via a ‘mid-sized’ European car and mad running on heels, the audience would have figured out that no lame obstacle – such as a gambling chip Beth seemed to have retrieved from the fountain from Nick – would come between these two.

On the comedy, apart from the laboured vase-not-breaking scene from the trailer, there is little to savour, although Arnett’s deliberately awful Italian accent is so bad, it’s good.

Heder also has his moments as a lovelorn street magician,  who, when asked by Beth in a scene just what he’s doing pestering her, says with much showmanship: “Blowing your mind!”.

There is also a Napoleon Dynamite reference and Don Johnson sighting.

However, none of the above can raise this film above mediocrity. When Beth sadly proclaims to Nick in a late, tearful moment that even though their love “wasn’t real for you, it was very real to me”, one couldn’t help thinking how little it mattered.

About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.

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