16 April 2010

When in Rome

When in Rome

If nothing else, the casting of When in Rome amazes.

The casting directors managed to find an actress tinier than tiny leading lady Kristen Bell (Alexis Dziena) and an actor that she towers over when she's wearing heels (Danny DeVito).

Little else about the movie is as amusing.

Bell is Beth, a young curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, married to her job and, jaded as she is about love, unlikely to be married to a man at any time in the foreseeable future. In Rome for her younger sister's (Dziena) whirlwind wedding, she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel), the best man, and surprisingly finds herself smitten until she sees evidence of his womanizing ways. A drunken foray into the "Fountain of Love" ends with her taking a handful of coins tossed in by lovesick tourists tourists who then find themselves hopelessly in love with Beth.

The suitors, all conveniently from New York, are an Italian artist (Will Arnett), a bumbling street magician (Jon Heder), a male model (Dax Shepard), a sausage magnate (DeVito) and Nick.

Bell showed herself to be an incisive, compelling performer as the lead of the TV series Veronica Mars (2004-2007), but excepting Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), she hasn't had much luck on the big screen.

Screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman, the team behind last year's reviled Old Dogs, fail to give Beth a personality beyond her career-minded nature. So I suppose Bell does the best she can with what little she has to work with. She's charming and likable, and has a reasonably good rapport with Duhamel, who is a lot livelier and more interesting here than he's been in the Transformers debacles. The problem is, he and Bell don't share the screen enough to make their characters' budding love believable.

Most of the troubles come from the painfully unfunny shenanigans of Beth's magic-stricken admirers. Casting doesn't help; Arnett is known to a small but rabid following as Gob Bluth, the magician from the TV comedy Arrested Development, and it's impossible not to think of that late, great series whenever he or Heder appears.

Though Beth appears to be friendless, Nick has a circle of buddies played by actors who seem like they showed up to audition after getting turned away from the latest Judd Apatow movie. Bobby Moynihan's Puck is the kind of role Seth Rogen might play if he wasn't, well, talented.

There is at least one genuinely funny scene. On their first date, Beth and Nick have dinner at a "blackout" restaurant, where diners take their meals in total darkness and Kristen Schaal of Flight of the Conchords notoriety, as a waitress, lends her unique brand of weird to the occasion.

Grade: C-

(Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content. 91 minutes.)

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