When in Rome (US - BD RA)
Gabe thinks this Kristen Bell vehicle would work better as a horror movie...
Guggenheim art curator Beth (Kristen Bell) is too busy being a young professional to be in a healthy relationship. One day her more impulsive younger sister Joan (Alexis Dziena) announces she’s getting married in Rome, and Beth is forced into leaving New York for the weekend to act as a maid of honour. At the incredibly awkward wedding she meets Nicholas Beamon (Josh Duhamel), a charming ex-football player also living in New York, and the two hit it off, but following a terrible misunderstanding Beth drunkenly decides to steal four coins and a poker chip from ‘The Fountain of Love’ in hopes of winning easy, undying love. Unfortunately, the magical fountain compels the coins’ owners to seek out Beth’s affection, and her life is made a living hell of strangers that don’t understand the meaning of 'no means no'.
'Yuck' is my one word review for When in Rome, a formula embracing, mega-generic rom-com that gives formula embracing, mega-generic rom-coms a bad name. The use of the formula is, of course, forgivable (says the guy who owns a couple dozen slasher movies), but When in Rome is so gleefully predictable it’s hard to assume anything but the worst when picturing the film’s pre-production meetings. I’m picturing someone at Disney deciding to put another ‘professional with no time for love finds it anyway’ crowd-pleaser into production based on The Proposal’s impressive box office run. Someone else attached popular television actress Kristin Bell to the project, and used The Proposal itself (seriously, the tag line is ‘from the studio that brought you The Proposal, as if the two films are somehow related otherwise) as selling points. Curiously the producers hired Mark Steven Johnson to direct the project. Yeah, the Daredevil guy. Johnson was original known for his Grumpy Old Men series scripts (not to mention, ugh, Jack Frost and, bleh, Big Bully), so had When in Rome been made fifteen years ago his presence might of made sense, but post- Daredevil the move seems pretty random. Even stranger is the fact that Johnson appears to have come to the project as a director for hire, and was not involved with the original script, a first for any of his directed films. Think about that for a minute—the guy that made such uneven vanity projects as Daredevil and Ghost Rider has no investment in this project outside a paycheque.
So it’s pretty clear that no one here really cares about When in Rome as anything other than a product, like a bag of Doritos or a can of Pepsi, except maybe Bell and co-star Josh Duhamel, who probably hope their performances will get them wider exposure in the mainstream. There are a few bright spots of inspired idiocy, like a wacky date at an entirely darkened restaurant, and Bell and Duhamel are genuinely charming for the most part, but the blasé treatment is contagious. There’s even a second climax and a Mama Mia inspired dance sequence added to fill in the final ten or fifteen minutes, as if no one noticed they didn’t have a feature length release until they’d finished editing. How could this be fixed? Very easily, actually. There’s so much skin crawling creepiness in the basic plot set-up When in Rome could’ve made a pretty successful horror film. Instead of just being creepy, Beth’s suitors could be easily turned sinister rapist zombies. I’d pay to see Bell going Rambo on a handful of sex-starved, unstoppable, undead love slaves, and the supernatural fountain adds a nice Japanese ghost story angle.
There aren’t any surprises in this 1080p transfer, which should be taken as a good thing considering the film’s short-sighted aspirations. When in Rome follows all the visual leads set by romantic comedies for the last ten years, including bright and soft lighting schemes, amped up, pastel colours, and my personal favourite, a general yellowing of the entire palette (see, I used the right one this time). This yellowing, which serves no purpose other than to make the whole film seem generically ‘sunny’, seems to have been added in post, as the deleted scenes do not feature any tinting. The whole of the New York sequences feature a lot of black and white contrast, in that all the costumes are black, and all the backgrounds are white. These harsh contrasts feature minor edge-enhancement, but overall fine grain is clearly a bigger blemish, and thicker than anticipated. The Rome scenes are slightly softened, especially during character close-ups (which look a bit TV Soap Opera), but feature very impressive wide shots, including some images of the city that would do a postcard proud. Close-up details aren’t super-sharp, but sharp enough to catch the little beads of sweat on Bell’s cleavage. Not that I was looking. The biggest problem with the whole visual representation is the 2.35:1 framing, which very much not the fault of the disc’s producers. Any two shot featuring Bell, who features in almost every frame of the film, is a huge problem for head room.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack also features nothing in the way of surprises, but gets its minimalist job done. Most of the track is devoted to the centred and clear dialogue, and the soundtrack selling songs, but the effects are not entirely lost, or even entirely frontal. Aural highlights include the wedding reception sequence, with its singing and dancing crowds, the dark restaurant scene, and the goofy, mini-car race through the city. The musical components of the mix are pretty soft, though the obnoxious pop elements do have some decent LFE presence. Mixing down a Christopher Young score this low should probably be a crime, though. My review copy features more than a few brief instances of audio drop out, which have hopefully been caught a fixed by Disney for the full release copies.
The extras are mercifully brief, and begin with Blu-ray exclusive alternate openings and endings (07:20, HD). There are less ‘alternate’ then they are ‘elongated and painfully awkward’. ‘Crazy Casanovas: Mischief from the Set’ (12:30, HD) is a typical EPK, featuring brief interviews with the cast and crew mixed with footage from the film, and generically ‘wacky’ behind the scenes footage and outtakes. ‘Extended Pain with the Suitors’ (02:40, HD), a series of three brief deleted scenes, finishes out the Blu-ray exclusives. Things are completed with a proper blooper reel (03:10, HD), eight more deleted scenes (07:00, HD), two music videos, and previews for future Disney releases. The weirdest thing about the deleted scenes is that a different actor plays Lance the street magician’s videographer. Apparently they couldn’t resist the lame Napoleon Dynamite joke.
When in Rome is made with a specific audience in mind, and it placates them as efficiently as possible without breaking a creative sweat. I am not a member of this target audience, and found the placation insulting, but try to make it a habit to not judge comfort food movies too harshly. This said, I still can’t find any good reason to recommend the film to anyone other than Kristen Bell’s biggest fans, who hopefully won’t be expecting anything even close in tone to Veronica Mars. The Blu-ray disc features no surprises, negative or positive, in terms of A/V quality, and the extras are minor, but there are some sizable Blu-ray exclusive items in the mix.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 15th June 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Alternate Opening and Ending, Crazy Casanovas, Extended Pain with the Suitors, Bloopers, Deleted Scenes, Music Videos, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Danny DeVito, Jon Heder
Genre: Comedy and Romance
Length: 91 minutes
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