Except for boyfriends and husbands reluctantly dragged along to megaplexes by their significant others, few folks who buy tickets to “When in Rome” will dislike this predictable but pleasant comedic fantasy. Trailers and TV spots already have alerted potential auds to expect formulaic froth: romantic misadventures of exceptionally attractive people who, while aided or impeded by aggressively colorful supporting players, maneuver through comical contrivances both mundane and supernatural. This is a fairly generic product that should post respectable theatrical numbers. Upbeat buzz by satisfied customers could sweeten homevid biz.
Credit Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) for never trying too hard or unduly stressing her cuteness quotient as Beth, a chronically unlucky-in-love Manhattanite. Employed as a junior curator at the Guggenheim Museum, she takes leave on the eve of a major fund-raising exhibition — much to the displeasure of her haughty boss (Anjelica Huston, picking up an easy paycheck) — to attend the wedding of her sister (Alexis Dziena) in Rome.
During the post-wedding festivities, Beth is instantly attracted to a hunky New York Daily News sportswriter, Nick (Josh Duhamel), who just happens to be the former college roommate of her new brother-in-law (Luca Calvani). But when she spots Mr. Dreamboat appearing to set sail with another wedding guest, Beth despondently wanders outside into a plaza, wades into a fountain adorned with a statue of Venus — and impetuously scoops up coins tossed by tourists seeking romantic assistance from the goddess of love.
This, of course, leads to complications. Back in New York, Beth finds she has been followed home by four unsuitable suitors — Al (Danny DeVito), a lonely sausage magnate; Lance (Jon Heder), a Criss Angel-style street magician; Gale (Dax Shepard), a vainglorious would-be male model; and Antonio (Will Arnett), an excitable artist — who have been, quite literally, enchanted by her. Or, more precisely, they’ve been enchanted by Venus: According to legend, Beth is informed, anyone who scoops coins from the aforementioned fountain attracts the desire of the coin-tossers.
Helmer Mark Steven Johnson (“Daredevil,” “Simon Birch”) maintains a light, bright tone throughout, balancing broad comedy with romantic longing without letting either get out of hand. The pic is nothing if not brisk — a compact 91 minutes — and while it appears that a few supporting players (such as Peggy Lipton, fleetingly seen as Beth’s mom) had their screen time greatly reduced in the editing room, the overall pacing is pleasing.
Among the mesmerized suitors, only DeVito gets a chance to convey something slightly more substantial than ardent wackiness. On the other hand, Duhamel plays Nick with self-effacing charm and an impressive flair for light comedy. Bell also makes a winning impression, and she’s very adept at expressing extremely mixed emotions when she comes to suspect that Nick, too, may be under the influence of Venus’ magic.
Don Johnson evidences robust good humor while strolling through the proceedings in an unbilled cameo as Beth’s father. And “Napoleon Dynamite” fans will have a chuckle when Heder is briefly reunited with an unbilled Efren Ramirez (aka Pedro) during an in-jokey bit.
Lenser John Bailey makes Rome look every bit as marvelously romantic as it should in this sort of romantic fantasy. For that matter, he also makes the Guggenheim Museum look like a great place to fall in love — or ward off potential lovers. Other tech credits are pro.