When in Rome
Touchstone // PG-13 // $39.99 // June 15, 2010
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 13, 2010
Rent It
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Graphical Version
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
"You think you're pretty funny, don't you? Do you enjoy watching me go crazy? Did you have fun watching my life turn upside down because of love?

Not really, no.

C'mon, Kristen Bell: just because you scored a lifetime Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card with me for that three season stint on Veronica Mars doesn't mean you have to whip it out quite so often. Of the long list of movies that K-Bell has hammered out over the past few years, only Roman and Forgetting Sarah Marshall really did much of anything for me. That remake of Pulse...? Ack. Fifty Pills and Fanboys...? Pretty aggressively mediocre. Couples Retreat...? Kind of ashamed to admit that I actually shelled out money to pick up that one on Blu-ray. When in Rome clings to that same "really? ::audible sigh::" trajectory she's been on for a while now.

The setup is pretty much word-for-word what I suffered through with Leap Year a while back: another determined, career-driven young woman carving out a life for herself in the big city and latching onto true love in one fell swoop, she skips across the Atlantic and becomes ensnared in one of that country's high-concept-romantic-comedy-friendly traditions, and it's there that she stumbles upon a free-wheeling charmer who threatens to defrost this ice princess' frost-bitten heart. Pretty much every last romantic comedy cliché bobs around in here somewhere, from our pretty heroine having a quirky, awkwardly supportive best friend to the romantic lead palling around with a boorish, smart-alecky fat guy. Does Beth (Kristen Bell) spend a big chunk of the movie rolling her eyes at the prospect of
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
dating Nick (Josh Duhamel)? Well, yeah. Do they fall madly in love, have some random plot point split them apart just before the finalé, and then there's some huge romantic gesture at a big, public event where she realizes that this really is the guy for her? A climactic dash through the rain? I don't want to lob out any spoilers or anything, so I'll whisper the answer instead: yes!

Okay, so those are the broad strokes. For the specifics...? Beth is the youngest curator to ever set up shop at the Guggenheim, and just a few short days before she's supposed to prove herself with a critical art exhibition -- with the centerpiece of the show not even on its way yet! -- she gets the news that her kid sister's getting hitched. Not only is a last minute wedding thrown together, but it's in Rome! Home of...I don't know, Romans and spicy meatballs and Vespas and people spending Euros on things. With her boss (Anjelica Huston) scowling the whole time, Beth has to trot over to Italy and try to dot-Is-and-cross-Ts for the exhibition from there. Beth is still stinging from a breakup a year in the rear view mirror, but she's still hoping to find a man she loves more than her job, and...wow! Maybe this guy Nick is the one! They hit it off, but it looks like bad timing wins once again. Frustrated and kinda drunk, Beth grabs a handful of coins from a legendary fountain of love because...because I don't know why. Anyway, it's a magical fountain, and every guy whose coins Beth pilfered falls head over heels in love with her: a street magician named Lance (Jon Heder), Italian import-slash-tortured painter Antonio (Will Arnett), an egomaniacal male model type (Dax Shepard), and dwarven sausage magnate Al (Danny DeVito). Not only does Beth have to fend off this gaggle of borderline-psychotic suitors, but she's still gotta try to salvage something out of this
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
exhibition, and she can't quite shake the fear that maybe the only reason that Nick is doting on her is that same fountain-fueled spell...

When in Rome isn't excruciating the way that Leap Year is, but that's about as high as the praise gets. I really do like a good bit of the cast: Pushing Daisies' Lee Pace has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it part, Kristen Bell is as charming as ever, and...hell, even though Will Arnett really should've been playing the magician part, I'm genuinely surprised by how much I dug Jon Heder doing a cacklingly over-the-top Criss Angel impression. I can't stand Jon Heder or Criss Angel, but somehow the two of 'em mashed together works terrifyingly well. Josh Duhamel is a decent romantic lead too, and...geez, I really don't want to admit this, but when the movie's focused on just Duhamel and Bell talking, I was kind of into it. The "romantic" part is okay -- cloying and manipulative, sure, but okay -- but the "comedy"...? Ack. No.

Its sense of humor is just limp and lifeless. I mean, in the first five minutes alone, you get two -- two! -- record scratches when Beth embarrasses herself at a party at the gallery along with a paint-by-numbers "he's standing right behind me, isn't he?" gag. There's a "my bad!" It practically goes without saying that the electricity gets knocked out during one spazzy fit and that there's an obnoxious cell phone ringtone kicking in at an oops-inappropriate time. Each of Beth's wannabe-wannabe-her-lovers have some kind of gimmick, but the movie kinda forgets to do anything funny with 'em. Like I mentioned, Heder manages to score some laughs with his ridiculous Criss Angel impression, and Duhamel does a pretty great job with a gag where he's supposed to be translating a teary-eyed speech but can't exactly speak Italian all that well. Otherwise...? Pretty much a comedic black hole. When in Rome hammers the same few mediocre jokes into the ground over and over and over. The movie's anchored around that fountainy curse but doesn't seem all that interested in capitalizing on it. There's a scene in a ritzy restaurant that keeps the lights off to heighten the other four senses that's flat-out excruciating. Director Mark Steven Johnson -- following up superhero spectacles Daredevil and Ghost Rider with...well, this -- seems to realize that the writing's pretty
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
lousy, so he tries to compensate by having the cast overplay everything as big and broad as possible. I wouldn't really chalk nudging from "not funny" over to "obnoxious and still not funny" up as a win. ...and man, so much of the dialogue is stilted and awkward. I mean, as talented an actress as Kristen Bell clearly is, no one in the history of dramatic acting could pull off a line like "even though it won't matter after tonight, I want to thank you for making me believe in love again."

When in Rome staples a high-concept premise -- one it has little-to-no-interest in at the end of the day -- onto the most generic romantic comedy template it could dig up. The movie's able to coast on the talents of its cast a little, but...yeah, it's still pretty awful. When in Rome is just watchable enough to sneak past a skip-it rating, but unless your wife/girlfriend/whatever has cobbled together a pretty slick scheme to extort you into tuning in, I'd steer clear. Rent It, I guess.

Well, at least it looks nice. The photography in When in Rome is sometimes cast in a warm, faintly soft glow -- kinda contributes to the whole sunny daydream feel to the whole thing -- but otherwise, the scope image is ridiculously crisp and detailed. The palette for quite a bit of the film skews towards that golden, squinting-at-the-sun-at-5-PM sort of tint, keeping everything all bright and cheery too. Since this high-def master was nicked straight from the digital intermediate, When in Rome should be just about a bit-for-bit flawless reproduction of what made the rounds on digital screens theatrically. There's no trace of speckling or wear, and a very faint sheen of film grain is still visible. I couldn't spot any sign of edge enhancement, hiccups in the AVC encode, or artifacts from overzealous noise reduction. Looks pretty great to me.

When in Rome's AVC encode and lossless soundtrack take up most of the first layer on this BD-50 disc, and the gaggle of high-def extras spill over into the second layer. The image is letterboxed to preserve the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

Romantic comedies aren't exactly legendary for pushing overpriced home theater rigs to the breaking point, but When in Rome's is still a notch or two above average. The sound design in this six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack isn't hyperaggressive or anything, but there's quite a bit of subtle atmospheric color that winds up feeling immersive. Clinking glasses at the wedding reception, background chatter and ringing phones in Nick's newsroom, the hustle and bustle of the streets of NYC...the mix is still very much weighted towards the front speakers, sure, but there's enough atmosphere splashed in the surrounds to make it all feel organic and alive. There are also some smooth pans from one channel to the next, such as Antonio's microscopic car backing up into traffic. Only a couple of scattered effects really take advantage of the subwoofer, like the thud-after-thud of a mummified street magician stumbling around Beth's apartment. The low-end is generally aimed squarely at the score and snippets of music, and that's all reproduced marvelously, definitely setting itself apart from anything DVD could hope to belt out. The fidelity...the clarity...you could waltz into a room blindfolded and still tell instantly that this is a shiny, newly-minted Blu-ray disc. Nothing overly flashy but definitely still effective.

Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs are served up in French and Spanish. There's a subtitle stream for each soundtrack on the disc: one in English (SDH), another in French, and one more in Spanish.

All of the extras on this Blu-ray disc are presented in high definition, and a handful of them didn't make their way to DVD.
  • Alternate Opening and Ending (7 min.; HD): Most of
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    that 7 minute runtime is devoted to a longer intro to a bunch of When in Rome's characters, including Beth getting locked out of a ritzy shindig at the Guggenheim and clumsily trying to sneak back in. It's laughless, natch, but does set a few things up a little better, including the "be more assertive, Stacy!" angle that winds up being mildly important later on. The alternate ending doesn't really change much aside from pointlessly tossing in a waterlogged mummy.

  • Crazy Casanovas! Mischief from the Set (12 min.; HD): Eh, this is pretty much a standard issue EPK, and a hefty chunk of it's devoted to the usual "oh, we're having sooooooo much fun, and the other actors are a blast, and our director is so collaborative!" routine. It was kinda interesting to hear that each of Beth's suitors is meant to embody some trait that'd normally be appealing in small doses, and a fair amount of time is spent discussing the fountain the crew built even though Rome is not exactly without its own fountains.

  • Extended Pain with the Suitors (3 min.; HD): For whatever reason, this clip isn't served up with the rest of the deleted scenes...maybe just to give this Blu-ray disc another exclusive bullet point on the flipside of the case. Anyway, three-quarters of Beth's League of Deranged Wannabe-Boyfriends crash her big exhibition on the nature of pain to chat about the agony they've been suffering through. It's kind of just hammering the same jokes the movie's already trotted out over and over again, and even though it's mildly amusing to watch Beth try to pretend everything's all going according to plan, this would really deflate the idea of the show being a runaway success if this sequence had been left in.
...and the rest of it's the same as the DVD.
  • Kerplunk! Bloopers from Rome (3 min.; HD): Blown
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    lines, fumbled magic tricks, impromptu dancing...you know the drill. Okay, maybe not the magic trick thing so much, but whatever.

  • Deleted Scenes (8 min.; HD): So we score a different and longer introduction to the kid sister as she raids Beth's closet, there's another nekkid mural, Lance has an Asian stereotype for an assistant, and there's a longer spin on the cat-and-mouse chase in the Guggenheim with Al. Kinda more of the same. The two most noteworthy additions round it all out: Beth's failed stab at returning the coins to a micro-fountain-of-love in a gift shop and the cursed suitors busting in on the big exhibit. Nothing really worth taking the time to tear into, tho'.

  • Music Videos (7 min.; HD): Last up are videos for two not-very-good-at-all dance-pop tracks: "Starstrukk" by 30H!3 with a guest spot by Katy Perry and another for "Stupid Love Letter" by Friday Night Boys.
A not-all-that-tough-to-unearth Easter egg clocks in at seventy-one seconds and has the cast quipping about the craziest things they did in the name of love. Oh, and I guess maybe it's worth mentioning that there are a few high-def trailers piled on here too. There's no digital copy this time around, and for anyone keeping track at home, When in Rome comes packaged in a glossy cardboard slipcase.

The Final Word
Mamma mia! That's-a one crappy movie! If you've gotta watch When in Rome, my vote...? Rent It.

Copyright 2018 Kleinman.com Inc. All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy DVDTalk.com is a Trademark of Kleinman.com Inc.