What’s Rome got to do with it?

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When in Rome, ro­man­tic com­edy, rated PG-13, Re­gal Sta­dium 14, 1 chile If the trailer for this film brings to mind 1954’s Three Coins in the Foun­tain, let me re­lieve you of any mis­con­cep­tions. Like that film, When in Rome in­volves some coins and a foun­tain and has some scenes set in Italy. But while Three Coins isn’t ex­actly a great movie, it was nom­i­nated for a Best Pic­ture Os­car. When in Rome, though, is so sloppy, flimsy, dumb, and un­funny that I feel con­fi­dent pre­dict­ing that it won’t end up on any list of nom­i­nees — ex­cept maybe for the Razz­ies.

Kris­ten Bell as­sumes the moth-eaten role of an am­bi­tious, spunky-but-sweet type-A worka­holic young woman, here named Beth. Her pro­fes­sional drive in­tim­i­dates men, so they steer clear of her al­to­gether or else date her and then break her heart. Beth takes two days off from her job at the Guggenheim (her ti­tle is cu­ra­tor, but the job looks more like party plan­ning) to at­tend her sis­ter’s wed­ding in Rome. The groom’s best man is charm­ing Amer­i­can sports­writer Nick (Josh Duhamel), with whom Beth quickly hits it off. Feel­ing op­ti­mistic, she fol­lows him to the pi­azza out­side the church, hop­ing to share a bot­tle of cham­pagne be­side the “foun­tain of love.” She spies him canoodling with a volup­tuous woman in

a red dress, though, so she wades de­ject­edly into the foun­tain and gripes to the gods about her dis­il­lu­sion­ment. Hop­ing to save a few poor wretches from hav­ing their hearts bro­ken, too, she snatches five coins from the wa­ter. This sets in mo­tion a creduli­tys­tretch­ing spell (the al­ways-help­ful thun­der and light­ning in the dis­tance let you know some­thing por­ten­tous has tran­spired): the men who tossed the coins into the foun­tain fall im­me­di­ately in love with her.

Con­ve­niently, four of the guys are Amer­i­cans, which al­lows them to track Beth down when she re­turns to New York and ob­ses­sively fol­low her. The prob­lem is, they’re all goof­ball losers who be­have more like creepy stalk­ers than po­ten­tial suit­ors: a vain wannabe male model (Dax Shep­ard, Bell’s re­al­life fi­ancé), an as­pir­ing artist with a bad fake Ital­ian ac­cent (Will Ar­nett), a street ma­gi­cian (Jon Heder), and a self-pro­claimed Sausage King who’s old enough to be Beth’s fa­ther (Danny DeVito— yes, you read that right). Mean­while, Nick is back in New York, too, and wants to ask Beth out; she’s skep­ti­cal, though, think­ing he must be be­witched like the other fel­las.

As I’ve said many times be­fore, ro­man­tic come­dies are rarely sur­pris­ing: we know the end­ing be­fore we even buy our tick­ets. What makes this sort of movie suc­ceed is lik­able char­ac­ters, clever di­a­logue, and in­trigu­ing plot twists, all of which When in Rome lacks. Screen­writ­ers David Di­a­mond and DavidWeiss­man ( Old Dogs) fail to give any­one any­thing re­motely funny to say or do. They shame­lessly steal jokes from much bet­ter movies, such as FourWed­dings and a Fu­neral. The mis­un­der­stand­ings they cre­ate to drive the plot for­ward feel ridicu­lously forced— Beth’s con­fu­sion about the woman in the red dress, for ex­am­ple, could have been cleared up with a brief con­ver­sa­tion. Peo­ple bump­ing into things or hit­ting their heads are mined for far more than they’re worth, and the lazy at­tempts at wit and clumsy prat­falls quickly wear thin. Even the comic tal­ents of Ar­nett and Shep­ard can’t re­deem the pro­ceed­ings, and it’s sad see­ing them slog through one ridicu­lous gag af­ter an­other. Poor Heder is left to reprise his Napoleon Dy­na­mite char­ac­ter— that film’s Pe­dro (Efren Ramirez) even shows up for a cameo. Duhamel is a breath of fresh air, though, ex­hibit­ing the cool, low-key charm of a hand­some reg­u­lar guy and never seem­ing to try too hard.

Don’t let the ti­tle mis­lead you: if you’re hop­ing to en­joy the movie’s scenery, you’ll be dis­ap­pointed. Only about a third of the film takes place in Rome, and even less of it seems to have been shot there. Most of the lo­ca­tions in the Eter­nal City look like stage sets— the am­a­teur­ish fon­tana d’amore in par­tic­u­lar.

Di­a­mond andWeiss­man do re­sist the il­log­i­cal, overused trope in which the ro­man­tic leads hate each other be­fore they re­al­ize they ac­tu­ally love each other. Beth and Nick seem to con­nect, and Bell and Duhamel have a nice, nat­u­ral chem­istry.

And to its credit, When in Rome is a re­fresh­ing con­trast to oth­ers of its rom-com ilk in which the main char­ac­ters are alarm­ingly, il­log­i­cally ob­sessed with mar­riage— Leap Year, BrideWars, 27 Dresses, and Made of Honor come to mind. And un­like so many other lead char­ac­ters in such films, Beth isn’t a bimbo or a bitch, and the writ­ers don’t sub­ject her to hu­mil­i­at­ing gaffes or an­tics. Her crit­i­cal short­fall is her un­will­ing­ness to be­lieve that she’ll find love, to be­lieve that Nick’s af­fec­tion is gen­uine. And while this skep­ti­cal self-doubt feels very real and hu­man, it’s hard to be­lieve that 20-some­thing Beth could al­ready be so jaded or that a sharp, smart gal with Bell’s looks would have any trou­ble se­cur­ing a date.

The only way Beth can break the spell cast on her un­wit­ting suit­ors is to toss their coins back into the foun­tain or re­turn each coin to its owner. About half­way through this film, I be­gan to feel like I’d tossed my seven bucks into the foun­tain of lousy movies and had got­ten what I de­served. I con­sid­ered ask­ing for my money back. Maybe if the man­ager re­turned my hard-earned cash to me, I thought, it would set in mo­tion some sort of mag­i­cal the­atri­cal spell, and I’d end up loving this movie af­ter all.

Men are from

Veron­ica Mars:

Kate Micucci, left, and Kris­ten Bell

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