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Review: 'When in Rome'

Predictable and laugh-free

Posted: February 18, 2010 4:24 p.m.
Updated: February 19, 2010 6:00 a.m.

Josh Duhamel, right, and Kristen Bell are shown in a scene from, "When in Rome." It rated one and a half stars.

 
Of all the pretty faces and talented comedians to populate "When in Rome," the funniest co-star is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Yes, there at the center of this unabashedly formulaic romantic comedy is Frank Lloyd Wright's revered New York landmark. After it was inelegantly shot to bits in "The International" last year, it now suffers the indignity of serving as a backdrop - with Cai Guo-Qiang's "exploding cars" floating above - to a scene with a soundtrack by Jason Mraz's "Kicking With You."

The Guggenheim might want a new agent.

But if the museum is miscast, the leads of "When in Rome" - Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel - are more fitting.

The film, directed by Mark Steven Johnson ("Daredevil," ‘'Ghost Rider"), is a vehicle to turn Bell into a household name in the mold of Sandra Bullock. She plays Beth, a curator at the Guggenheim who has given up on trusting men and instead has "a relationship with my job." (Anjelica Huston plays her wooden boss.)

Bell was most widely seen (but was largely underused) as the ex-girlfriend in the Judd Apatow-produced "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." The better proof of her smarts and wit, though, was the short-lived UPN detective series "Veronica Mars."

Here, her charisma feels stifled by the cliched when-will-I-ever-get-married story. She has screen presence, but this is a poor coming-out party for her.

When Beth travels to Rome for her sister's (Alexis Dziena) wedding, she hits it off with the best man, Nick (Duhamel). Aside from being tall and dashing, he has a self-effacing sense of humor and helps her through the disastrous reception.

But their connection is severed by a misunderstanding and Beth, crestfallen again, ends up sloshing around in the (fictional) Fontana D'Amore (fountain). Angry at the world, she steals five coins tossed in for good luck in love.

This theft elicits a curse - that those who threw the coins are immediately and hopelessly in love with Beth. Back in New York, a bizarre foursome stalks her: an Italian painter (Will Arnett), a "Sausage King" (Danny DeVito), a street magician (Jon Heder) and a self-adoring male model (Dax Shepard, Bell's real-life squeeze).

In over-the-top fashion, they all compete for laughs, though only DeVito succeeds much. Bobby Moynihan, the "Saturday Night Live" cast member, provides the best complementary comedy as Nick's drinking buddy.

While Nick competes for Beth's attention among the four obsessives, the point is clear: To be in love is to be under a spell, with or without magic coins.

It's all exceptionally predictable and disappointingly laugh-free, especially since anything with Arnett - one of the funniest around - is typically worth the price of admission.

Duhamel is left to utter lines such as, "This is real, I'm real," but he generally comes off as better than the material. The finest moments of the film are his periodic physical gags and well-timed pratfalls.

It's that slapstick that suggests where "When in Rome" might have gone: more screwball and less rom-com.

"When in Rome," a Walt Disney release, is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content. Running time: 117 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.

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