Studio Name: Touchstone (Buena Vista Distributing for Disney)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Disc/Transfer Information: 1080p High Definition Widescreen; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Starring Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Danny DeVito
If it weren’t for the deliciously cute and adorably sexy Kristen Bell, this dud really wouldn’t have anything going for it. What Mark Steven Johnson’s When in Rome ultimately succeeded at was creating a whirlwind of a marketing and advertising campaign that lured unsuspecting viewers in – yours truly unfortunately included – based on some pretty funny-looking trailers. At the end, the whole thing was just plain silly, with some strange character development, dialogue that was just plain odd at times and a tag line that simply does not ring true, at all (”Bring home the must-own romantic comedy of the year!”). Yeah, right.
First of all, I must ask, after scratching my head during the entire closing credits sequence…is this the same Mark Steven Johnson associated with Daredevil? Or am I thinking of someone else? Well, while we chew on that, let’s take a look at the ridiculously predictable When in Rome and see how many clichés this film can whip up in its tired “romance comedy” genre, shall we? I don’t know what it is, but ever since I laid eyes on Kristen Bell in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I was hooked – that innocent face, mesmerizing eyes and sexy little mole on her upper cheek all combine to create my vote for “most underrated piece of tail in Hollywood”…I just think she’s adorable. Of course, many with keen eyes will remember her as the college chick fighting otherworldly computer demons in Pulse, but she really did it for me in Sarah Marshall, especially when she was tramping around the Turtle Bay Resort in Hawaii with those bikini tops on or the short dresses and cork wedge sandals – yum. Here, Bell portrays Beth, a New York curator that always puts career before men (how many times have we suffered through these plots before? We get it – Manhattanite girls are career-oriented, and unless you really have something to offer them like, say, a ride in a Ferrari or a summer house in Venice, forget ever hooking up with one of these life-in-the-fast-lane gals…believe me, being originally from New York, I know). When she’s hosting a big New York City event for her job, an ex of hers pops in and proposes to her, asking for her to take him back. Bell, as Beth, through some spinach in her teeth, refuses to oblige or take him back. When she gets back to her apartment, her smokin’ cute sister arrives to bring the news that she’s getting married to some Italian stud she’s met on an airplane in first class, although they’re only dating a couple of weeks. Good role model and message there for young women, huh?
The sister’s wedding is going to be in Rome, so Bell’s character flies out during a massive work deadline and meets the husband-to-be (who looks like he’s just stepped off the pages of GQ Magazine or a tryout for Rocco Stiffridi’s adult entertainment company) while making a jerk out of herself during the wedding but at the same time catching the eye of player-extraordinaire Josh Duhamel. Duhamel is a New York newspaper sports columnist who happens to be the groom’s best man; something about the two of them being roommates in Syracuse during college. At any rate, the two of them start a flirting ritual during the wedding, turning out in disappointment for Bell’s Beth character, who finds her new stud muffin making out with a smokin’ hot Italian babe in a really short red dress. Frustrated with not being able to find love, Bell scoops up some coins and a poker chip from the Fontana de Amore, fabled for placing spells on people which affects their love lives. The problem is, with each coin she picks up, the person connected to tossing the coin is suddenly smitten with an obsessed desire to find Beth and fall in love with her.
Once back in New York, she starts to meet all the creeps who threw the coins into the fountain, and they come out of the woodwork and into her life under this “spell” from the fountain; these sequences go from a bit funny to downright stupid and silly, especially the scenes involving a strange magician that’s smitten with her and insists on doing weird tricks in her presence. I just didn’t get what was so funny about this. Meanwhile, Duhamel stalks her as well, claiming his feelings for her are real and not part of this spell…eventually, we round up all the weirdos involved in this masquerade, and they run the gamut from the bizarre magic creep, some idiot that’s so in love with himself he keeps ripping off his shirt in front of Beth to show off his muscles, a New Jersey artist pretending to be some Euro-trash hunk and Danny DeVito, who plays a sausage company owner that’s in love with Beth too. The film suffers from the nonsense that follows, including a story that goes into gathering these guys that are under the fountain’s spell at Beth’s apartment so she can explain what is happening and why they’re all obsessed with her, but quickly detours into the group trying to get Beth to her career-dependent event at the Guggenheim Museum. Because of a blackout in New York, this strange bunch must find their way to the museum so Beth can save her job – and this will prove that the men truly love her. Are you getting all this? Hello? Are you sleeping at your computer terminal yet? HELLO!!??
Anyway, what transpires is just plain stupidity and exhibits a clear lack of creativity or professionalism by the writing team or producers – these misfits that are stalking Beth, and including Beth, pile into the so-called Italian dude’s tiny little Euro car to rush her over to the museum in time for her boss not to can her behind. There is supposed to be some kind of humor behind this closing sequence, but it’s just stupid…you see this group smashed into this tiny little car, racing through the streets of New York past blackout-stopped traffic, until they ultimately reach the Guggenheim and the car is driven up the stairs and into the museum’s elevator. Actually, the funniest part of this scene – and the best dialogue clip delivered by any performer in this travesty – is when DeVito crawls into the tiny car and says, ”Who made this car…Fisher Price?”
Now, you know there is going to be the inevitable, uber-cliched ending, don’t you? You know Bell’s Beth character gets her dream guy, don’t you? But wait – before that, her sexy sister, calling from Rome with her new husband (both buck naked save for some aprons), tells Beth that there is a way to reverse the spell. She must return the coins to the fountain, and she must do this herself, so she can’t Fed Ex the coins to the sister to take care of it for her. But wait – there’s another twist! She finds out through information from the husband’s mother that there’s an alternate option…she can return the coins to their owners to break the spell too. The problem is, Beth’s annoying (and really ugly) assistant has run off with the coins from Beth’s apartment so she can ultimately “find love” with these creeps – I mean men. What? What am I missing here? Why does there always have to be one of these kinds of friends that interfere and demands a woman go on dates or “fall in love”? How many times have we seen this already?
At any rate, getting back to the man of her dreams…could it be that the spell really hasn’t been put on Duhamel’s character, and that he really cares for Beth? Let me ask you all this…do you even care? Give When in Rome a rental spin if the answer to that is “yes” although I don’t know how you’re going to live with yourself (unless you’re a woman). Some other tidbits about the film: We get a little cameo by the aging Don Johnson (yes – that’s right: Of Miami Vice!) as Beth’s dad, and another head-scratcher with regard to the plot holes…how can it be that all these creeps that follow Bell’s character who threw their coins into the fountain in Rome are all in New York all at the same time? Is it that the “spell” brought them there, seeking her out?
Why am I doing this to myself, people?
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
This is Disney’s Buena Vista home video release division, so this Touchstone production had to be rich eye candy, yes? Well, yes and no – for the most part, the 1080p encode here looks fabulous and is everything a high def transfer should be…bright colors, detail in faces and structures, good solid black levels. However, there seemed to be some kind of issue with the contrast levels that made some sequences such as close-ups of Bell’s face appear overly bright and washed out. This happened sporadically throughout the transfer, but it certainly didn’t distract in any major way. Otherwise, outdoor shots of Rome were pretty nifty looking, with solid dimensionality beyond characters and buildings, and lush detail in the cobblestone streets surrounding the famous fountain.
Nothing reference quality here, but nothing overtly negative as well. For the small fan base this title is likely to win over, I don’t think scrutinizing the visuals on the Blu-ray will be at the top of the priority list anyway.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
Like the last Buena Vista release I sampled on Blu-ray (and purchased), Michael Bay’s Armageddon, When in Rome came equipped with an English DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack in a 5.1 config; just something I am curious about: Was there a press release issued from either Dolby Labs or DTS announcing the death of Dolby TrueHD? Are these not being put on Blu-ray Discs any longer? I can’t remember the last title I sampled – well, more recently – that included a TrueHD soundtrack. It seems the de facto standard on Blu-rays is Master Audio, and not that it’s a bad thing, but it seems interesting as Dolby Digital was the standard on DVDs…
When in Rome exhibited the typical audio performance from this genre of film – that is, it’s center channel heavy with occasional spread to the other channels for score support and such. What stood out on the Master Audio track was the effects accompanying the thunder and lightning strikes when the “spell” of the fountain was active – during these sequences, the LFE and surround information was startlingly real and effective, especially for a film like this. Outside of that, it was a pretty much ho-hum mix.
Alternate Opening & Ending
“Mischief From the Set” Featurette
Music Videos: “Starstrukk" by 30H13 Featuring Katy Perry & “Stupid Love Letter” by Friday Night Boys
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
While lavished with an eye-opening advertising campaign that drained the copies right off the shelves at Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, When in Rome was just plain silly in my view. The delicious Kristen Bell is on display for eye candy for the male viewers, but outside of that, if your lady happens to skip this one in the Netflix cue or on the Blockbuster line, consider yourself lucky.
Of course, as always, your mileage may vary. Please share your thoughts with me on the title, and whether you agree or disagree regarding the content, entertainment value, etc.
Thank you for reading!