I counted how many times I laughed during When in Rome, as a service to you, the reader. The answer was seven. Seven times in 90 minutes I said, "Ha!" -- which averages out to around once every 13 minutes. To be fair, that's not in the "worst movie ever" territory; for instance, I only laughed out of hysterical pain during Babel, but it's certainly not equitable to the many dozens of times I laughed during Superbad, Old School, Wedding Crashers, and heck, even Role Models and Ghost Town. So while When in Rome isn't as bad as something like I Love You, Beth Cooper or Evan Almighty ... it's still not all that good, either.
Kristen Bell (as Beth) is a hard-charging museum curator in New York City. She's always put her career first, to the detriment of her love life. Her reasoning is simple and well thought out: if she ever finds someone worth loving more than her job, well, she'll do it. Until then, she'll remain a career-driven and focused young woman. Which is fine -- it's similar to the setup of Sex and the City, so it's not an instantaneous deal breaker (amiright, ladies?). Beth travels to Rome for her sister's wedding, where she meets Josh Duhamel, a dreamy former football player. Luckily, they are both attractive and single, and so we're on our way to romantic comedy-dom. Unfortunately, disaster strikes, as for a fleeting moment it seems as though Duhamel might have *gasp* a girlfriend. Upon learning this news, a despondent Bell drinks herself into a stupor and stumbles around an Italian fountain of love. We've all been there. She picks five coins out of the fountain, because nothing says "contrived plot point" like petty thievery, and she returns home to the Big Apple (and this is key) with the coins.
You can guess what happens from there. The folks whose coins she picked out of the fountain instantly fall in love with her and stalk her back across the Atlantic Ocean. OK, perhaps you couldn't have guessed that, because it doesn't make any sense. But obsessed with her they are, and these parts are filled out by Danny DeVito, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, and Dax Shepard. To the credit of these gents, the seven laughs I got came mostly from their direction. DeVito is a sausage magnate, Arnett is a painter, Heder a magician, and good ol' Dax is a male model. How all of them managed to relocate from Rome to NYC under the spell of love isn't considered or mentioned. It happened because someone wrote it as such, so we must obey.
Still, even this wouldn't even be enough to truly gin up a good hatred. After all, Enchanted was built upon a mystical fable, but it played as charming and fun. Not so for When in Rome, and it's because the jokes are staler than a 10-year-old Triscuit. Here's a quick-hit style rundown of the methods employed to tickle your funny bone:
1) The joke where you're talking about someone who is standing behind you
2) The joke where you're talking with something in your teeth
3) The joke where you say something that causes the DJ to do a "record scratch" noise
4) Sight gag upon sight gag upon sight gag. People run into telephone poles, high heels break, guys fall into open construction pits, clown cars, Don Johnson...
You get the drift. It's an appalling collection of unfunny, the sort of lack of humor that sociologists will one day study to discover the evolution of comedy. The answer will become clearer as they delve deeper into the When in Rome case file. How and why did comedy finally evolve? Because people finally stopped seeing films like this.