Though this confectionary production offers exhilarating visuals both human and man-made, “When In Rome,” directed by Mark Steven Johnson, written by David Diamond and David Weissman, falls deflatingly flat as a comedy, a love story, and a source of any insight into things romantic. Set in Rome and New York, it’s a dang-gorgeous story that tries with zero success to straddle the line between true love and otherwise untrue infatuation. Johnson manages to capture giddiness where giddiness is required but trying to breathe life into a preposterous premise with non-believable characters proves to be beyond his ken.
The lovelorn Beth, Guggenheim curator, attractive, bright, intelligent is played by Kristen Bell. Though she does have these positive qualities, her love life is surprisingly unhappy, which is why she loses herself in work. An art world aside: you can tell a lot by her curatorial duties, which seem to consist of event planning for the Goog’s – that’s what they call it - benefit gala that the curatorial profession is more fundraising focused, less art focused than you might expect, but that’s another story.
At her younger sister Joan’s (Alexis Dziena) wedding – which takes place in Rome - to hunky Italian, Umberto (Luca Dalvani) she drunkenly steals five coins from a fountain of love. According to an Italian legend, the throwers-in of these coins are destined to fall suddenly, madly and, unless the spell can be broken, irrevocably in love with the one who retrieves them. The movie shows how, back in New York, she unmuddles the spell and, in the process, finds her one true love, Nick (Josh Duhamel), who was Umberto’s best man.
The suitors, which include Antonio (Will Arnett), Lance (Jon Heder), Gale (Dax Shepard), Al Russo (Danny De Vito), and which may or may not include Nick, are a wonderfully disheveled lot, funny, desperate, and aggressive in their pursuit of Beth. Anjelica Huston is in fine form as Celeste, Beth’s overpreening boss. Don Johnson makes a small but effective appearance as Beth’s father, who divorced her mother to marry a professional volleyball player. Father Dino (Keir O'Donnell) was hilarious as he tried to officiate two weddings, without much success, calling to mind Rowan Atkinson’s peerless performance as a hapless priest in “Two Weddings and a Funeral.” And Kate Micucci works her role as Beth’s assistant, Stacey,to great advantage, though it’s not without merit to speculate that her nuanced performance would have made for a far better Beth than Kristen Bell. Bell acquitted herself well, especially at the end when she found what she had been looking for but, for most of the film, her character was clichéd, shallow, and predictable. Likewise with Duhamel’s Nick. It has less to do with their acting than with a flimsy premise, atrocious dialogue, and plot turns that seem like the fountain coins, thrown in the hope that things will work out.
The settings were well spot-on, and the funniest scenes were visually based, especially Bell’s klutzoid demolition of the lavish wedding reception and, in a visually perfect scene, her chasing a rolling coin down the entire length of the Guggenheim’s spiral walkway. But the story as a whole is incoherent and any feel-good intent was bruised by mediocrity.