Not saved by the Bell
I’m a Kristen Bell fan. Having said that, I hate When in Rome, the latest film to squander her charms.
Bell kicked some major ass in Reefer Madness, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and, of course, TV’s Veronica Mars. Since Marshall, she’s shown up in the deplorable Fanboys, the embarrassing Couples Retreat, the stupid Astro Boy—voice only—and now this crap. When in Rome has the dubious distinction of being the worst film of the year thus far.
Bell plays Beth, an events curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, who is one year removed from her last relationship and in some serious need of lovin’. Her little sister Joan, played by the ridiculously adorable Alexis Dziena, is going to marry her new boyfriend in Italy, and Beth’s presence is required regardless of her mad busy work schedule. So off to Italy she goes, leaving her snooty boss Celeste (Anjelica Huston, hamming it up and looking lost) sneering and bitching.
While in Rome, Beth makes nice with best man Nick (Josh Duhamel), but a misunderstanding leaves her drunk and wading through a fountain, where she snatches up some coins. These coins represent the love hopes of five different men, and those five men will fall unconditionally in love with Beth because of some local fountain legend horseshit. Four of the men consist of a street magician (Jon Heder), a male model (Dax Shepard), a sausage king (Danny “Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen” DeVito) and a struggling artist (Will Arnett). The fifth man is somewhat of a mystery, although Beth assumes its Nick.
Watching the likes of the usually hilarious Arnett wearing a dumb wig and sporting a cliché Italian accent is painful, insufferable stuff. Arnett’s presence in a film, no matter how bad that film is, usually means that there are going to be at least a few laughs. All he does here is earn savage hatred toward the agent who handed him this script. I’d say the same goes for Jon Heder and Dax Shepard, but who really gives a rat’s ass about those guys at this point in their careers. DeVito has some decent filmmaking in his past, so he’s forgiven of present and perhaps some future mistakes.
What does director Mark Steven Johnson want you to find funny in these 90 minutes? Beth shoots breath spray into Nick’s face by accident. Seriously, that’s probably the film’s biggest joke, and chances are you won’t laugh all that hard. Other moments include Heder’s Criss Angel-like magician pulling his bloody heart out of his chest for a card trick. I shit you not.
Bell and Duhamel deserve much better. I dug Duhamel in the silly but entertaining Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, and he lends this film occasional moments of grace. His character is some sort of former football star turned sports writer, and there’s only so much you can do with that. His most memorable moment is when lightning strikes him in the head. Yeah, that’s a real knee-slapper.
Director Johnson’s past directorial works consist of Simon Birch, Daredevil and Ghost Rider. He also had a hand in writing Jack Frost, Big Bully and Grumpy Old Men. With the exception of Grumpy Old Men, this man is responsible for a concentrated amount of pure cinematic cat vomit. And we’re not talking a cat who has been feasting on tasty, somewhat expensive Iams. We’re talking a barn cat that’s been eating rats and pigeons.
It’s sad watching Bell navigate these mundane waters. It’s a testament to her star quality and charisma that she’s likeable throughout this garbage, but enough is enough. It’s time for her to get a better project, or she should just go back to TV where she gets better material.