Italy’s tourist attractions are proving to be fertile ground for the Hollywood rom-com these days: the recently released Letters To Juliet (2010) incorporated the cult surrounding Verona’s star-crossed lovers as its narrative catalyst whilst When In Rome opts instead for the legend of the – fictional – Fontana d’Amore to cast its magic spell over its gormless characters and provide the foundation for its countless corny comic turns.
The labotomized fairy tale premise of When In Rome is perhaps one of the lamest concepts to be committed to screen in recent memory: when Beth, a materialistic-career-obsessed-lovelorn art curator, plucks four coins and a poker chip from the Fountain of Love (the producers were presumably not granted access to the Trevi fountain given its immortalisation in far better films) she inadvertently awakens a magic spell that sees the money’s previous owners fall madly, deeply in love with her. This rag-tag bunch of persistent admirers include a vain model (Dax Shepard), an Italian artist (Will Arnet), a street magician (Jon Heder) and a widower/creep (Danny De Vito) whilst Josh Duhamel sleepwalks his way through the role of leading man Nick. Predictably, problems arise when Beth falls in love with the latter but is faced with the conundrum of quelling the spell, thus putting a premature end to her one chance of obtaining true happiness.
Whilst When In Rome’s most cumbersome restraint is its inherent lack of comic potential, it is also irrevocably weighed down by the unsympathetic nature of its characters. Beth – being the career woman she is – treats her mobile as a conduit for her emotions (“How is he getting reception?” she wonders wistfully) and is only capable of perceiving time in relation to banking regulations (“That not even enough time for a credit check!”). Nick (Josh Duhamel) – with his generic good looks and effortless affability – treads the fine line between ladies man and men’s man thanks to his corresponding talents for womanising and playing poker while supping on a Budweiser.
Like Letters To Juliet, When In Rome also wastes an impressive cast; Anjelica Huston pops up in a small role as Beth’s boss; Danny De Vito, whose career took a recent boost after appearing in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, is horribly underused; Will Arnet, better known as Gob in Arrested Development, is-a-reduceda-to-a-terrible-Italian-stereotype; while Jon Heder is briefly reunited with Napoleon Dynamite‘s Pedro, as if to remind future casting agents of prior career highlights.
As When In Rome limps towards the final reel, it is impossible not to equate the images of coins being thrown into the fountain with the waste of money the film ultimately amounts to. One hopes director-for-hire Mark Steven Johnson, when in Rome, made a wish himself: primarily for a better opportunity than this.