Movies: When in Rome * *
(PG, general release)
As has been demonstrated time and again in recent weeks and, indeed, years, the romantic comedy is a genre that seems to elude the talents of today's writers, directors and actors.
Dimly aware of their failure to produce even half-decent romcoms, film-makers are driven to ever more desperate measures in the hopes of raising a teary laugh. And in When in Rome, writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and his team resort to that last refuge of a romcom scoundrel -- magic.
Kristen Bell plays that genre staple -- a pretty and pleasant but mysteriously single, young woman. Beth is a career-driven curator at New York's Guggenheim Museum whose high-powered job has left her with little time for men.
In fact, she's something of a sceptic when it comes to love, and raises a dubious eyebrow when her younger sister announces she's about to marry an Italian she barely knows in Rome. When Beth attends the wedding, however, she's rather taken with the dashing best man.
She and Nicholas (Josh Duhamel) hit it off so well that Beth assumes romance is in the air, but when she sees him embracing another woman, she trudges wearily to the nearest fountain swigging a champagne bottle by the neck.
When she sees all the coins that have been hopefully tossed into the 'fountain of love' by heart-sore tourists, she wades in and picks up some of them, which she keeps.
Back in New York, Beth cannot understand why she is suddenly beset by stalkers. In no particular order, a street magician (Jon Heder), a struggling painter (Will Arnett), a narcissistic male model (Dax Shepard) and a sausage magnate (Danny DeVito) declare their undying love for her, and proceed to pursue her pell-mell across Manhattan. It's the magic fountain, folks, and when Nicholas comes back into her life, Beth begins to suspect that he only loves her because one of the coins was his.
All of this unfolds at a hectic pace, but with little wit, and genuine amusement is rare. You do root for the leading couple, but only half-heartedly, and cameos from the likes of DeVito, Anjelica Huston and a minutely groomed Don Johnson only serve to remind you that all three (even The Don) belong in a better film.