When in Rome

Sometimes there’s a real disconnect between critics and the general public. And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that critics can’t really let themselves enjoy a movie for what it is. They often (I presume) walk into a theater with a pretty good idea of how they’re going to feel about it… before the two-legged cartoon cell phone even gets a chance to remind you that it’s rude to text during the movie.

I’ll wager that many people who wanted to see When in Rome (i.e. made a conscious choice to actually purchase a ticket and walk into the theater) left either pleasantly surprised or (at the very least) okay with it.

The critics, on the other hand, have filleted it, skewered it, and then thrown it into a trash can, which they subsequently set on fire.

The truth is, When in Rome is cute. It’s enjoyable. And there are more than a handful of times that you will literally laugh out loud. (No, not ‘LOL’. I mean really laugh).

There are also moments that will make you groan, wince, and roll your eyes– but no one (I hope) is going into this movie expecting Roman Holiday… except for the critics, apparently.

Kristen Bell plays Beth– a workaholic curator at the Guggenheim who has all the stereotypical workaholic tics down perfectly (even a little too perfectly). She’s addicted to her Blackberry. She’s single. She convinces herself (daily) that love is a sham. And she’s just clumsy enough to be cute.

When she travels to Rome (well, it’s a Hollywood movie set– let’s be honest) for her sister’s wedding, she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel). They share a moment, but then just as she opens up to the possibility of (ooh!) love, she sees him kissing Mystery Woman in Red. In a drunken tizzy, she spitefully wades into the Fountain of Love and picks up a few coins.

It turns out picking up a coin makes the man who threw it fall in love with you sight-unseen. (It would have been an interesting twist had a woman tossed one of the coins Beth picked up. Hmmm.) In Beth’s case, this means crazed suitors in the form of a narcissistic model (Bell’s real-life beau Dax Shepard), a struggling artist (Will Arnett), an even-more struggling magician (Jon Heder) and the Sausage King (Danny DeVito), along with Nick himself.

When in Rome is not a subtle movie. Laurel and Hardy routines have less slapstick and fewer pratfalls. But for every two or three bits that fall flat, there’s one that actually works– including a dinner scene in a pitch-black restaurant, a mini-car ride through Manhattan, and pretty much every scene with Nick’s (stereotypically overweight and hairy) buddy Puck, played by SNL‘s Bobby Moynihan. You may also find it difficult to suppress at least a chuckle at the best priest this side of Peter Cook’s Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride.

Bell does an above-average job, and she has real chemistry with Duhamel– which certainly helps. The supporting cast (including Don Johnson, Anjelica Huston, and Peggy Lipton) seems to be there solely for the ‘Hey, isn’t that…?’ factor. But overall, When in Rome not at all as bad as the critics make it seem.

Look… if you walk in expecting the worst, you’ll easily be able to pick apart every cliché, trite bit of dialogue, and tired joke. But maybe (just maybe) if you can just appreciate it for what it is, you might have more than an OK time.

3/5 stars