Slapstick doesn’t work well in ‘Rome’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, January 28, 2010 3:13pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Since “Four Coins and a Poker Chip in the Fountain” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, I suppose “When in Rome” will have to do as a title.

It’s a lame title for a lame movie.

We are far from the romantic days of “Three Coins in the Fountain,” which was a hit sometime back in the age of Julius Caesar, I believe. This one’s slapstick with just a hint of romance around the edges.

As with most movie heroines, Beth (Kristen Bell) is overworked and single. She’s committed that most unforgivable of errors in film: She has put her career before her love life.

Her younger sister makes no such mistake, arranging a hasty Italian marriage to a guy she met two weeks earlier. While briefly in Rome, Beth has a nice moment with best man Nick (Josh Duhamel) at the reception.

He’s a former football player who got hit by lightning during a big game, which makes as much sense as anything else in this movie.

But then some magic arrives. And I don’t mean magic like “Casablanca” magic, or “Roman Holiday” magic. This isn’t even “The Hangover” magic.

I mean a cheap conjurer’s trick, whereby Beth’s idle gesture of retrieving four coins (and a poker chip) from a Rome fountain causes the men who threw the lucky objects to fall madly in love with her.

This murderer’s row includes a sausage mogul (Danny DeVito), a street magician (Jon Heder), an artist (Will Arnett) and a model (Dax Shepard). And, of course, Nick.

The film moves back to New York for the zany results of this gimmick. Which never makes much sense: We don’t learn how the men knew to come to NYC and pursue Beth, nor is there a revelation scene where Beth realizes all these guys were in Rome at the same time.

Weird. But so is the decision to throw in random pratfalls — I guess Nick keeps tripping into manholes and walking into lampposts because someone who got hit by lightning would be unlucky. Unlucky, maybe; funny, not really.

The movie, despite a respectable cast, feels fumbled and oddly spiritless. “When in Rome” is directed by Mark Steven Johnson, whose work includes “Ghost Rider” and “Daredevil,” which is not a good track record.

Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”) and Josh Duhamel (“Las Vegas”) are TV-seasoned stars who seem ready to assume bigger things in movies, and they would seem well suited to romantic comedy. But this is not that film.

Even at the basics, “When in Rome” gets it wrong. You can’t photograph the tiny Bell and the tall Duhamel next to each other without using some art, because it will look like he’s using stilts and she’s in a ditch. Which is what this movie looks like. And that is not a good thing.

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