When in Rome
You should have had me sign a pre-nup … now you die.

Theatrical Release Date: 01/29/2010
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Anjelica Huston, Will Arnett, Danny DeVito, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci, Lee Pace

After seeing “Daredevil” and “Ghost Rider“, I can’t say I was expecting a great deal out of director Mark Steven Johnson’s latest film, “When in Rome”. That’s a good thing because I didn’t get much in return for parking my petootie in a seat for an hour and a half.

The basic set-up is that Kristin Bell is a workaholic curator for the Guggenheim, stressed she’ll mess up the big fundraising Gala and incur the wrath of her boss, Anjelica Huston (doing her best Meryl Streep impression a la “The Devil Wears Prada“). She travels to Italy for her sister’s wedding and falls for Josh Duhamel, one of the groomsmen. As fate and a tired script would have it, things go awry and through alcohol, poor judgement and the same tired script, she ends up taking a few coins from a fountain of love.

Of course (and by that I mean because otherwise there’d be no movie), there’s an Italian curse of sorts that makes all the people whose coins Bell fished out fall in love with her. Now if one of the five coins she pulled had been from a hot woman, then I might have changed my tune but why complicate the script with the more logical idea that at least 20% of the people throwing coins into a fountain wishing for love are women? Geez, what kind of reality am I living in? The men then profess their love and go chasing after her and the film then goes on as one might expect – if you need me to draw up a road map, you shouldn’t even be driving.

Now, while I can’t really recommend this one to any but the more hardcore rom-com crowd, I will say that some of the supporting performances had some good moments. While Bell and Duhamel don’t spark much more than a votive candle and bringing in his “Napoleon Dynamite” buddy Efren Ramirez didn’t help me ‘enjoy’ Jon Heder’s inclusion, I did find myself smiling and even a chuckle or two escaped for some of the work by Will Arnett, Dax Shepard and Danny DeVito.

Each of the three take their characters up a notch, embellishing on the rather tepid dialogue with their own spin to the roles. Whether it’s Arnett’s Italian accent and preference for painting full body nudes on a building facade, Shepard’s male model self-love being surpassed by the spell of love for Bell or DeVito being a sausage king (though not of Chicago), each gave me some reason to keep from rolling my eyes completely into the back of my head.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not sure why Johnson continues to get feature film director gigs. All of his films look like they were made straight for cable and this is no exception. Producers could probably save a lot of money if they didn’t have to spring for all the distribution costs and marketing involved in a theatrical release … just a thought (and plea of sorts). The camera set-ups are nothing you wouldn’t see at home on the couch saved on your DVR and the “magical” fantasy aspect of the premise never came through. For an example of how to do that right, see “Enchanted” – though it is a bit like comparing apples and actual films.

I’m sure that the hardcore romantic comedy fans who aren’t as jaded will look past the flaws and embrace the sweet, chewy center of the film. However, although I found a certain amount of glucose goodness here, it all came together in a package as bland as dry toast and I can’t give “When in Rome” any more than a 2 out of 5. If you must see a romantic comedy right now, you’re better off with “Leap Year“, and even then I think you’re better off with something off the DVD shelf.