When in Rome


When in Rome

Josh Duhamel and Kirsten Bell hope they are eaten by wild animals before doing When in Rome 2.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Touchstone) Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Dax Shepard, Jon Heder, Danny DeVito, Anjelica Huston, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci, Bobby Moynihan, Lee Pace, Don Johnson. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

Love is so mysterious to most of us that it borders on magic. It appears in its own mercurial time, it disappears without warning, it transfers from one person to another and when it hits us head-on, our lives are never the same.

Beth (Bell) is a workaholic sort who has blazed her way into becoming the youngest ever curator at the Guggenheim in New York City. Nick (Duhamel) is an easy-going sportswriter. They meet at the whirlwind wedding of Beth’s sister Joan (Dziena). Beth, stressed over a big exhibition that she is curating that no work is getting done on while she is foolishly enjoying her family’s life event in the company of chip-off-the-old-block pa (Johnson).

Things go inevitably wrong complete with a vase that refuses to break, electrical mishaps and the kind of shenanigans that usually go on at movie weddings. Pay no attention to these. Instead, note that Beth is getting hammered, and as hammered women often do she goes wading into the Fountain of Love (the city fathers of Rome wisely prevented the Trevi Fountain from being associated with this in any way shape or form) and pulls five coins out of the fountain.

This is when the magic happens…so to speak. Each of the men who threw the coins in the fountain – an annoying street magician (Heder), an annoying painter (Arnett), a really annoying model/narcissist (Shepard) and a slightly less annoying sausage king (DeVito) – all fall hopelessly and unrealistically in love with Beth and follow her back to New York where they make attempts to woo her that are about as well-worn as the word “woo.”

In the meantime there is that fifth coin. Was it thrown in by Nick? And if so, does that mean the blossoming romance between Nick and Beth is all a lie, forced by the magic of a fountain which has apparently confused stalking for love. Then again, what would you expect from a hunk of concrete.

There are some elements here that would have made for an interesting movie – unlike a lot of critics, I have no beef with the concept, only the execution. Rather than trying for genuine laughs, the writers opted for weak slapstick routines and cliché comedy bits (if I hear that freaking record scratch again I swear I’ll lose it – and you hear it not once but twice in the first five minutes).

It’s a real shame because Duhamel and Bell are genuinely appealing and make a nice couple. Duhamel, in particular, shows himself to be a real pro, offering a good performance despite the obvious knowledge that he’s in a movie that has some real problems.

I have no issues with Shepard, Arnett, DeVito and Heder individually but I’ve never really connected with them consistently as actors (with the exception of DeVito, who showed in such films as The Oh in Ohio that when given a decently written role he can make something wonderful out of it) and here they seem to be allowed to mug all over the place. I get the impression occasionally that there are four of them because they could get four name actors for the roles; had one of them passed, there would have been three of them – if one more name actor had agreed to do it, five. I found it amusing that all four of the coins belonged to men- statistically, far more women throw coins into the Trevi than men – and thought the movie might have worked better if at least one of the coins belonged to a woman (I could see someone like Amy Poehler as an aggressive romantic stalker).

But then that wouldn’t have played in middle America and one gets the sense that this was a movie assembled to target a particular demographic rather than because the writers had something important to say about love and life. I know that the first instinct of a studio executive is to go with the safe and the familiar, but I think box office figures demonstrate clearly that a well-written movie with an interesting story, memorable characters and something to say about the nature of life will more often than not bring in the box office gold that Hollywood studio executives know more about chasing than they do about chasing love.

WHY RENT THIS: Duhamel is one of the most underappreciated stars in Hollywood and he has nice chemistry with Bell.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The romance is cliché, the comedy is cliché, the script is cliché, the romance is cliché, the comedy is cliché, the script is cliché – say, do you get the strange feeling you’ve seen it all before?

FAMILY VALUES: There is some suggestion of sexuality but nothing really overt.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the scene where Beth first stands in the Fountain of Love and surveys the coins, they are all in U.S. currency even though the fountain is supposedly in Rome.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of music videos and a blooper reel here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43M on an unreported production budget; the movie most likely underperformed or broke even.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Invincible

The Oh in Ohio


The Oh in Ohio

Danny deVito and Parker Posey have just found out they're supposed to make out in their next scene.

(Cyan) Parker Posey, Paul Rudd, Mischa Barton, Danny deVito, Heather Graham, Liza Minnelli, Keith David, Tim Russ, Ed Brigadier, Miranda Bailey. Directed by Billy Kent

We have a thing about sex. It fascinates us, intrigues us, titillates us but ultimately makes us uncomfortable when we try to discuss it with one another. Even the thought of talking about our orgasms and our masturbatory habits can bring a blush to our faces that would put Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to shame.

Priscilla (Posey) is an uptight executive who has been married, comfortably by all accounts, to Jack (Rudd) for ten years. He’s a teacher in a local high school whereas Priscilla works as a shill trying to lure business ventures to relocate to Cleveland.

To say the spark has gone out of their marriage is like saying Hurricane Katrina brought a little dampness to the Gulf Coast. Priscilla you see has never experienced an orgasm, even though she and Jack have tried valiantly – 1428 times, not including this morning by Priscilla’s own count. This woman is completely anal in a different context than you’re probably thinking about right now.

This has put a strain on the marriage and not to put too fine a point on it, on Jack’s feelings of masculinity. He’s literally tried everything to stimulate his wife and has essentially given up on trying. While the two are polite and civil to one another, there is a kind of awkwardness between them, like a couple of blind people trying to talk about the elephant in the room with no real context to work from.

Priscilla’s co-worker Sherri (Bailey) recommends New Age sexuality guru Alyssa Donahue (Minnelli) who does things like having the ladies in her class draw pictures of their vaginas, and then examine the real thing in a pocket mirror for comparison. Donahue recommends masturbation and plenty of it, leading Priscilla to a sex toy store where a helpful clerk (an uncredited Graham) dissuades her from purchasing a vibrator the size of Pike’s Peak and instead steers her towards something a bit more realistic.

Priscilla’s self-stimulation leads to – wonder of wonders – her first oh Oh OH OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODYESYESYESSSSSSS which, predictably changes the dynamic in her marriage. She becomes almost obsessively addicted to her vibrator, using it at every turn possible.

That essentially marks the death knell of her marriage, driving Jack to an apartment (in the lovely Manly Arms, an apartment complex for single men – oh Cleveland I never knew you were so cosmopolitan!) and into the arms of a sexually aggressive student (Barton) which is illegal even in Ohio, but seems to make sense here; after all, if I was a teacher with a student that looked like Mischa Barton, I might consider throwing my moral compass overboard, at least for a while anyway.

Priscilla soon begins to feel lonelier than ever and finds she needs more than self-stimulation. She begins an unlikely friendship with Wayne the Pool Guy (deVito) who at first is only after putting a pool in her yard so that he can make an advertisement that he put a pool in every single home in the neighborhood, but eventually reveals a deeper side to him that you wouldn’t think was there…yes, I know a deep end for the pool guy, how droll.

This got widely panned by the critics when it was released in 2006 and I can see why that is; the humor is a bit forced and juvenile at times, but there is also Posey’s stellar work as Priscilla, playing off her reputation for playing ice queen-type characters and turning Priscilla into a sympathetic figure instead. Her relationship with Wayne the Pool Guy is one of the movie’s high points, even if on the surface the romantic relationship seems unlikely as all get-out.

The insights here into human sexuality mock its importance in relationships even as it does seem to infer that it is an important component indeed. It seems that Priscilla isn’t in a complete and healthy relationship until she begins to pleasure herself, which leads to actual sex, which she finds she likes even better – despite having had it 1,428 times previously without the desired results.

This isn’t going to change your life in any particular way, but it does make for a nice way to pass the time, even if some of the laughs are more like uncomfortable giggles. Although on the surface it seems to be an unsuccessful sex farce, I found it works better if you look at it more as a study on the place of the physical element in romantic relationships. American Pie this ain’t.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice insight into human sexuality. The deVito-Posey romance is surprisingly believable and sweet.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The humor is sometimes too quirky for its own good and occasionally the filmmakers try to force laughs that aren’t there.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality, a bit of drug use and a moderate amount of foul language. In other words, fine for most adults but a trifle much for immature teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Cleveland setting is well-earned, as most of the filming took place there.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Of Time and the City