Much like the protagonists yearning for the enchantment of love, 'When in Rome' is locked in a horribly desperate and hopeless search for comedy. The assortment of clichéd humor is delivered with such strained effort that for the viewer, even the smallest inkling of a smirk quickly turns into a frown. Then, after only a few laboured situational antics, monotony sets, followed soon after by the sudden realization that another 70 minutes still remain. This romantic comedy from Mark Steven Johnson ('Daredevil,' 'Ghost Rider') makes for an utterly dreadful date movie, more likely to cause break-ups than affectionate laughs.
Kristen Bell ('Serious Moonlight,' 'Couple Retreat,' and 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall') stars as an art curator named Beth, an independent, successful woman fresh out of a relationship. (As if there was any other kind in a romcom.) During an art exhibit, her former beau suddenly shows up to remind her that she's all business with little room for romance. (So then, why show up to a party she's hosting?) Later, she's invited to attend her younger sister's wedding in Rome. (How convenient. Oh, wait, it’s in the title. Right.) There, she clicks with Nick (Josh Duhamel), a hunky American who happens to be just as goofy as she is. (The cosmic coincidence is astounding.) But when she catches glimpse of him with another woman, Beth suddenly goes cuckoo (well, she's drunk with bitterness actually) and steals wishes from "the fountain of love." And let's throw in a wink-wink to Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita' while we're at.
As if to make the plot any more ridiculous and nonsensical, now she's cursed, with the owners of those coins (Jon Heder, Danny DaVito, Dax Shepard, and Will Arnett) falling hopelessly and maddeningly in love with her. Even more perplexing is the sheer luck that all these same men also happen to be from New York. And they know where she works. Where she eats lunch. Where she jogs. Where she lives. And they seem to be able to . . . randomly find her . . . in the Upper East Side . . . in a city of over 1.6 million people. Normally, I’m not one to espouse "suspension of disbelief" when discussing films, but, man, does this movie push Coleridge’s theory to the very boundaries. Adding insult to injury, the filmmakers become so desperate for a laugh, they throw in a 'Napoleon Dynamite' reference for no apparent reason whatsoever!
From the very start, this lame feature instantly establishes itself as a rehash of sight gags and absurd dialogue intended to be witty. Showing that the movie will be nothing more than an excruciating 90-minute collection of embarrassing misunderstandings and publicly humiliating mishaps, 'When in Rome' is one of the worst examples of lazy writing and mediocre direction in a long while. Formulaic and contrived doesn't even begin to describe the narrative's mechanical pace and structure. This is a romcom far too comfortable with playing strictly by genre conventions and too afraid of devising something new and fresh. There must be some kind of book I'm not aware with a point-by-point breakdown on how to film the perfect comedy for couples – Romantic Comedies for Dummies!.
The whole spectacle is simply too convenient to be entertaining and actually ends up becoming somewhat frustrating to watch. By the time we finally reach the denouement, awkwardness sets in rather than a sense of relief. 'The Wizard of Oz' conclusion is so clumsily ham-fisted that it actually surpasses the obligatory nature of the entire genre's stereotypes of happy-endings. And seriously, what’s with the last minute red herring! Anyone paying close enough attention can easily figure out the owner of the poker chip within the first few minutes. Sadly, even the genuine chemistry between Bell and Duhamel fails to save this self-destructive production. It’s been a while since I last updated it, but 'When in Rome' is the latest addition to my list of worst movies ever made.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'When in Rome' comes courtesy of Walt Disney Home Entertainment, and the BD50, Region A disc is packages in a standard blue keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. At startup, viewers are greeted with trailers for 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice,' 'Lost: The Final Season,' and a promo for Disney Blu-ray products.
'When in Rome' debuts with a stylized look that never works in the movie's favor and doesn't make much sense for a romcom. Even if the photography is a deliberate approach, albeit a very odd and perplexing tactic, the video does not make for the sort of hi-def presentation expected of a new release. In fact, it's downright uninviting and unappealing.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) shows higher than normal contrast, which causes serious clipping in several scenes, blown highlights, and a great deal of white-washing. Color correction filters and diffusers are in heavy use, creating a foggy or dreamlike effect. The palette displays a golden, amber hue, which provides the movie with a cinematic quality that would have been attractive, while primaries are cleanly rendered. Unfortunately, this makes for an oversaturated and incredibly soft image, even though the freshly-minted transfer exhibits hints of impressive sharpness in a few scenes. Facial complexions suffer the worst by appearing healthy and natural one instant, and suddenly looking sickly pasty and anemic the next.
The picture's one saving grace comes byway of some rich and accurate black levels with strong shadow details. In the end, the transfer shows some nice moments, but it ultimately falls flat with two-dimensional blandness that only makes the movie even more of a chore to watch.
Despite being stamped with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, the sound design for 'When in Rome' is really not much better than the video. It's fairly boring, completely uneventful, and pretty much forgettable. For a story set in heavily-populated and highly active metropolises, it's somewhat surprising the track does not offer a more convincing soundfield. Although there are a few moments of ambience scattered throughout, the illusion of a bustling city is faint and unexciting. The musical score takes better advantage of the higher resolution codec, bleeding effortlessly into the background and giving the comedy a nice theatrical quality. In the end, however, rear speakers appear to be a missed opportunity, along with a low-end that seems MIA, except for all those hip and peppy songs. I wasn't expecting anything that would rock the house or shake the walls, but those few bits of action offered feel rather plain and average. While the front-heavy presentation displays excellent dialogue reproduction and clean dynamics, which is a positive, the entire soundstage ultimately feels monotonous and run of the mill. For a romantic comedy, the lossless track is adequate and gets the job done nicely, but there’s nothing impressive or unique about it either.
Walt Disney Home Entertainment graces 'When in Rome' with a small package of bonus material, which somehow ends up being a plus rather than a minus. Thankfully, there was no audio commentary to drudge through.
Despite having the adorable Kristen Bell perfectly matched with Josh Duhamel, 'When in Rome' is an instantaneous trainwreck within the first few minutes. It's not funny, clever, or even the slightest bit romantic. It's all a bunch of nonsense filled with random clichéd situational gags, revealing itself as nothing more than lazy moviemaking. The Blu-ray doesn't look any better, with the audio being the real highlight and supplements are a chore to get through. Granted, there might be some out there who actually enjoyed this debacle, but I'm most definitely not one of them.