When in Rome

(2010)  1/2 Pg-13
91 min. Walt Disney Studios Distribution. Director: Mark Steven Johnson. Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Anjelica Huston, Danny DeVito, Will Arnett.

/content/films/3685/1.jpgAh, Roma. The Eternal City. 2500 years of history. Home of the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, and the Trevi Fountain. And now When in Rome, otherwise known as “The Eternal Movie.” Yes, Touchstone Pictures fiddles while Rome burns again, this time as part of the most dismal romantic comedy to come up the Via Appia since Plautus penned “Sex Actually.” (Okay, I’m making that last part up.)

Come, play the cliché-counting game with me! When in Rome stars Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as Beth, an ambitious, workaholic New Yorker who’s unlucky in love (her last boyfriend broke up with her in Applebee’s). When she zips to Rome for her sister’s wedding, she reaches new lows of embarrassment, particularly the trailer-ready scene in which she’s supposed to break a vase for good luck, but instead lays waste to the reception hall (Oh, Lucy!).

But destiny isn’t done with Beth. At that very same wedding is Nick (Josh Duhamel of Transformers), the conspicuously hunky best man. Their boozy flirtation takes a bad turn, leaving a distraught Beth soaking in the “Fontana D’Amore.” There, she purloins four of the coins wishful lovers have tossed, setting in motion a painfully unfunny comedy of stalking. You see, by plucking out the coins, she has magically made herself the object of the wishers’ love mania. They follow her back to New York to make her--and us--miserable.

So Beth suddenly has more men than she knows what to do with, giving her something in common with the screenwriters (the geniuses behind Old Dogs). There’s street painter Antonio (Will Arnett), male model Gale (Dax Shepard), amateur magician Lance (Jon Heder), and “Sausage King” Al (Danny DeVito), each a hideous, walking stereotype. Arnett fruitlessly chases a Roberto Benigni impression (“Principessa!”). DeVito wastes time playing his umpteenth peppy loser (“Encased meat is my life’s work”). But director Mark Steven Johnson seems truly desperate with Shepard and Heder, the former made to rip off his shirt to show off his physique and the latter reunited with his Napoleon Dynamite co-star Efren Ramirez for some mind-numbing antics.

Everything about When in Rome is obvious and hackneyed; the music and even the sound effects are garish. Those in sore need of a break from reality, any break, may enjoy a movie that asks you to believe Duhamel was the victim of a lightning strike that left him without peripheral vision, or that there’s a trendy restaurant called Blackout that hands out night-vision goggles. But Johnson is no Blake Edwards. He’s more like a party clown who’s bombing…hard. Which may explain the scene that attempts to milk comedy from a ride in a tiny car. Oh, the humanity.

You can wait around for the moment when Beth tells one of the men in her life (guess which), “I want to thank you for making me believe in love again.” Or I have a better idea: can I interest you in a nice nap?

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Bluray

Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/15/2010

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Disney delivers When in Rome to Blu-ray in a bright and colorful transfer that's clean and excels in clarity. It's an accurate representation of the filmmaker's intent, though the post-production processing done to this film don't exactly give it a natural, filmic look. Skin tones look accurate, and black level is strong, so there's really nothing to complain about here, though no one will be using this as a demo disc. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is likewise solid if unexciting: dialogue is never less than clear, and there's some use of the rear channels to provide moderate immersion, though the aural demands of this romantic comedy are modest.

Bonus features kick off with the film's "Alternate Opening & Ending" (7:17 with "Play All" option, HD), followed by the standard-issue making-of "Crazy Casanovas: Mischief from the Set" (12:28, HD). The featurette includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, director Mark Steven Johnson, producer Gary Foster, producer Andrew Panay, Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito, Jon Heder, Luca Calvani, production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli, and sculptor Giovanni Gianese.

The bonus footage continues with "Extended Pain with the Suitors" (2:39 with "Play All" option, HD), alternate longer takes of the suitors plaguing Beth on the job; "Kerplunk! Bloopers from Rome" (3:07, HD); and eight "Deleted Scenes" (7:45, HD).

Last up are the "Music Videos" (6:47 with "Play All" option, HD): "Starstrukk" by 3OH!3 featuring Katy Perry and "Stupid Love Letter" by Friday Night Boys. It's all presented in HD, but only die-hard fans of the film's stars are likely to get much out of this release.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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