Sarah Jessica Parker flies from New York to Italy for a picturesque getaway under the Tuscan sun, but Hollywood cliches follow her through customs in “All Roads Lead to Rome,” a combination romance, farce and road movie that whiffs in all three departments. Though Parker’s assured performance, along with the enchanting backdrop, eases the action toward harmless gentility, they’re hijacked by a plot that mimics the plate-spinning business of classic screwball, but moves at agonizing half-speed. The journey to Rome is a long one, but the audience is always 300 kilometers ahead, sipping cappuccino on the Piazza Navona while waiting for the filmmakers to catch up. Little revenue will squeeze through its brief theatrical window in February, but the Parker name might carry this modest excursion further on home video and streaming.
Before the title “All Roads Lead to Rome” even appears on the screen, the film is already breathlessly laying out the plot, pausing for a brief overhead shot of Central Park before it’s wheels-up on the Alitalia flight carrying Maggie (Parker) and her rebellious teenage daughter, Summer (Rosie Day), to the boot. Though Maggie is trying to sell Summer on the blissful experience she had in Italy 20 years earlier, her true motive is to keep her daughter from making a terrible mistake. Summer’s sleazy boyfriend stands to do hard time for possession of a five-kilo marijuana stash and she plans to take the heat for him, under the dubious reasoning that she’ll be charged as a minor. The trip is Maggie’s excuse for a “kidnapping,” and she chucks the kid’s iPhone out the window for good measure.
Yet Maggie has a second ulterior motive for their voyage to Italy. Newly single after an ugly divorce from Summer’s father, she returns to the same Tuscan paradise where she romanced a handsome local named Luca. As it happens, Luca (Raoul Bova, also the love interest in “Under the Tuscan Sun”) hasn’t gone anywhere in 20 years, taking up residence in a hillside villa with his ornery mother, Carmen, played by the legendary beauty Claudia Cardinale. Maggie and Luca have barely gotten reacquainted before Summer and Carmen peel off in Luca’s convertible. Summer wants to get to board the next flight to the States, while Carmen insists they drive to Rome to meet an old flame at a cathedral. Naturally, they’re trailed by Maggie and Luca in the beat-up yellow rental car, which gives the ex-lovers more time to catch up.
When Luca enlists a popular TV broadcaster (a wasted Paz Vega) to aid in the search, which in turn leads to unwanted interest from the police, “All Roads Lead to Rome” morphs reluctantly into a cross-country farce, like an accidental “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” The need to keep barreling through the countryside works against the multiple romances that the script is trying to service, too, since there’s so little time to relax and take in the sun-dappled landscapes that Gergely Poharnok’s camera labors to supply. As directed by Ella Lemhagen, the film could not be described as energetic, but it has to keep its foot on the gas. All the inevitable couplings will have to wait until the whole caravan reaches its destination.
Though Cardinale’s husky tone redeems her stock grumpy-old-woman character, the comic beats in Cindy Myers and Josh Appignanesi’s script return to the same tired irony again and again. “It’s so relaxing in Italy,” says Maggie. “People are so laid back.” Cue honking horns and rude customer service. “I’m 100% certain they’re going to the airport,” she declares. Cue the red convertible whooshing by in the opposite direction. When this same setup and punchline happens a third time, it could almost be mistaken as a commentary on hackneyed running gags.
So many of the developments in “All Roads Lead to Rome” are absurdly contrived that Italy starts to seem like a magical country that causes and resolves minor misunderstandings. Maggie never gets a chance to show her daughter — or the audience — the beautiful life that so seduced her when she was a young woman overseas for the first time. They speed right past it.