I'm no shrink, but I'm fairly certain that When in Rome suffers from multiple personality disorder. The writers David Diamond and David Weissman, for whom we can thank for Old Dogs, apparently couldn't decide if When in Rome was supposed to be slapstick, romantic, or even slightly dramatic, so we're treated to a whirlwind of scenarios that don't add up in the end.
It seems that our protagonist Beth (Kristen Bell) suffers from the same disorder. Career Woman Beth is addicted to her Blackberry and claims she's waiting for a guy whom she loves more than her super-awesome job at the Guggenheim, but it sounds so forced, it's like not even the character believes it. Career Beth comes with two funky assistants and a slightly sassy gay man who seem to be her only friends. "Eff My Life" Beth runs into poles and is publicly humiliated by an ex at an art event she put together; as all eyes turn to her, the heel of her boot breaks. When she gets home, her little sister comes over to announce she is getting married in Rome in two days to someone she met in first class. Sensitive Beth has been burned by love (specifically her ex, played Lee Pace, looking sadly douche-tastic) and is, of course, the product of a bitter divorce; she uncharacteristically snuggles up with the best man at the wedding, Nick, while they're dancing after the ceremony. Wacky Beth gets drunk at said wedding, jumps in the Fountain of Love in her wedding dress, and steals coins.
Too bad Career Beth wasn't around to reign in Wacky Drunk Beth, because according to her sister, who is usually post- or pre-coitus with her new husband when she calls Beth from her new home in Rome, Beth has stolen the wishes of the people who originally threw those coins into the fountain. Unfortunately for Beth, those coins all belong to people who also live in New York City. And they're kooky! Her would-be paramours include Nick, the best man at the wedding; Lance, a ridiculous Criss Angel ripoff played by Jon Heder; Antonio, an Italian artist who paints in the park (Will Arnett); Gale, a self-obsessed model (Dax Shepard); and a well-heeled businessman who made his fortune from selling sausages (Danny DeVito).
Problematically enough, the scenes where they stalk her in increasingly more outrageous ways are the funniest ones. I say problematically because, uh, they're stalking her. They're totally harmless and there's no threat of violence, but seriously, let's call it what it is. Just like it would be creepy to have Lloyd Dobler actually stand outside your window with a boom box in the middle of the night after you've dumped him.
However, the more ridiculous scenes cancel out any possibility of convincing the audience that the movie is also about romance and taking chances and believing in just going for it even if you get hurt again. Flipping between scenes like Beth being chased through Central Park by Antonio (Arnett) who just wants to paint her feet and conversations with her boss (Anjelica Huston, phoning in a Miranda Priestly impersonation) about a make-or-break piece for an upcoming gala just doesn't add up.
Basically, the charming and funny supporting cast, full of faces you know and probably like, trick you into enjoying the movie more than you would otherwise. Ghostface Killah has a fun cameo as the DJ at Beth's gala, and delightful Kristen Schaal has an even better one as a waitress at a restaurant where patrons eat in the dark. Bell can be funny, and as Veronica Mars showed, she can do drama too. Duhamel, well, he had his hands full playing a character that was a mishmash of an unconvincing lady's man, a guy's guy, and a total klutz who also runs into poles a lot. I think he was supposed to be some sort of dubious character with a wild and storied past, but mostly he just came off as a generic handsome love interest. Beth and Nick are supposed to have some sort of believable attraction, but it's impossible to build one if most of the movie is spent trying to duck a shirtless Dax Shepard. When they do try and get to know each other, it's through wooden monologues about magic and family and other supposedly character-developing details that just add to the jumble.
When in Rome has a certain charm, though, and will probably please rom-com lovers. It's even a decent guilty pleasure for a Sunday afternoon. It's certainly not as loathsome as The Ugly Truth or as bland as Love Happens, but then again, there's no reason why we should settle for movies that are merely tolerable or just not terrible. If I never again walk out of a theater thinking, "Well, at least it wasn't Transformers 2," I'll be a happy movie lover.