When in Rome

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Dax Shepard
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson (“Ghost Rider”)
Written by: David Diamond (“Old Dogs”) and David Weissman (“Old Dogs”)

Take the screenwriters of one of the unfunniest comedies of 2009 (“Old Dogs”) and team them up with the director of two of the worst superhero movies of the last decade (“Daredevil” and “Ghost Rider”) and there’s no telling what kind of mutant cinematic love-child can be spawned.

Whatever label you’d like to put on the new romantic comedy “When in Rome,” it’s unfortunate that Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) – an actress that makes looking adorable an art form – has her name attached. It’s the type of pointless rom com that is easy to dismiss if you’ve clawed your way through enough of them.

In this latest entry of chick-flick torture, Bell plays Beth, a Manhattan museum curator who is too busy with her career to search for Mr. Right. Her interest in love is at an all-time low since her last boyfriend dumped her at Applebee’s and announced his engagement to another woman soon after.

While a wedding would be the last place Beth would want to go, especially with her boss Celeste (Anjelica Huston) breathing down her neck about an upcoming art show, Beth travels to Rome to see her little sister get married to an guy she’s only known for two weeks.

In Rome she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel), a sportswriter and charming best man who could have made perfect boyfriend material if Beth wasn’t so skeptical about relationships. Her cynicism (in addition to a little too much wine) drives Beth to take coins from a fountain in the city’s square where people make wishes to fall in love. In turn, the men whose coins Beth snatches from the magical fountain immediately direct their attention to Beth and follow her back to New York to try to win her heart.

Leading the pack of stalkers are actors Dax Shepard as an arrogant male model, Will Arnett as a crazy Italian artist, Jon Heder as a untalented street magician, and Danny DeVito as a friendly sausage capitalist. Other than DeVito’s short stature and the fact that he’s the only character of the bunch not written like a bumbling fool, there’s nothing remotely funny about Beth’s ridiculous suitors.

As the story continues to unravel as predictably as possible and with scarce humor, screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman decide that it might be neat to emphasize their unoriginality by writing in a “Napoleon Dynamite” reference into the script where Heder (the star of the 2004 indie hit) reunites with actor Efren Ramirez, who played Napoleon’s best friend Pedro. Really? The cameo works about as well as the rest of the thoughtless jokes that plague the script.

In the end, “When in Rome” is one uncreative sight gag after another. From Beth and Nick’s date to a restaurant where food is served in the dark to the weird “Wizard of Oz” curveball it throws at the end, director Mark Steven Johnson seems to have told the entire cast to just run with it and have some mindless fun. If only we were so lucky.

Old Dogs

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Travolta, Robin Williams, Seth Green
Directed by: Walt Becker (“Wild Hogs”)
Written by: David Diamond (“Evolution”) and David Weissman (“Evolution”)

While he is considered by many to be one of the funniest men in Hollywood, Robin Williams has been attracting some rather pathetic scripts over the last few years.

With the exception of this year’s Bobcat Goldthwait-directed “World’s Greatest Dad,” a dark comedy few people even saw, Williams hasn’t delivered a watchable, non-animated film since he doubled-up on the creepy dramatic roles of 2002’s “Insomnia” and “One Hour Photo.”

As far as comedy is concerned, however, Williams has struck out considerably with mishaps like “RV,” “Man of the Year,” “License to Wed,” and the sequel to “Night at the Museum.” It must only be a matter of time before he’s able to pump out a couple of consecutive winners before “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “The Birdcage” feel light years away.

Sadly, “Old Dogs” is not the comedy that’s going to get things started. It’s another irritating, family-friendly flop that could be described as the cinematic equivalent of a shot to the groin. Those who are easily entertained will probably chuckle even if they’ve seen it a million times before. For everyone else, “Old Dogs” will be old-hat.

In the film, longtime friends and business partners Charlie (John Travolta) and Dan (Williams) are in the middle of landing the biggest sports marketing deal of their careers when they’re sideswiped by some surprising news: Dan is a daddy. Vicki (Kelly Preston), a woman he had a fling with in Miami years ago, shows up with his 7-year-old twins Zach and Emily (Conner Rayburn and Ella Bleu Travolta) and leaves them in his care at the most inopportune time.

The formulaic set-up all leads to a montage-happy physical comedy featuring Travolta and Williams tripping over themselves for 88 minutes of painfully unfunny poop jokes and sight gags. Not even a collection of high-profile cameos by the likes of Matt Dillon, Amy Sedaris, Dax Sheperd, Justin Long, and the late Bernie Mac (in the final film of his career he plays some sort of techno-puppeteer) can thrust “Old Dogs” past its goofy and cliché premise.

Directed by Walt Becker, who has teamed up with Travolta before in “Wild Hogs,” “Old Dogs” is devastatingly short on laughs from the onset. As the random jokes push the limit of idiocy, we can only sit back and sigh while the image of Williams during his best years slowly fades away.