Film Reviews

When in Rome's Lameness Tamed by Kristen Bell's Charisma

The bar for romantic comedies has been set so low that when one — especially one whose press materials boast "from the studio that brought you The Proposal" — doesn’t leave you with the feeling that you've witnessed onscreen gynocide, consider it a small victory.

When in Rome is confused about what its lead actually does (Kristen Bell's Beth is supposed to be a curator at the Guggenheim, though the opening scenes suggest she's an event planner), its score is insufferable (Jason Mraz and Katy Perry dominate), and its plot is powered by dumb Old World hocus-pocus (Beth has fished out five coins from a fountain in the Eternal City and must fend off five suitors).

But Bell, unlike Katherine Heigl and Sandra Bullock, who executive-produced their big-screen debasements of 2009, brings enough effervescence to the film that she's able to spark believable chemistry with a usual dud like Josh Duhamel, playing sportswriter Nick—who actually likes Beth and doesn't wish to change or humiliate her (and who suffers most of the pratfalls).

Buoyed along by reliable scene-stealers, notably Will Arnett and SNL's Bobby Moynihan, When in Rome includes a nice disquisition on Picasso's Woman With Yellow Hair and homo innuendo that even GLAAD would support.

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Melissa Anderson is the senior film critic at the Village Voice, for which she first began writing in 2000. Her work also appears in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.