When in Rome, do as the Rom-coms do?

If only.

An inert comedy starring Kristen Bell as a workaholic unlucky in love, When in Rome is a rom-bomb.

When lovelorn Beth (Bell), scoops up a handful of coins from Rome's "fountain of love" (not the Trevi, but Trevi-like), she doesn't know she's messing with magic. The men who tossed coins in the pool wishing for love each fall for her, complicating her overscheduled life.

Beth, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum whose work looks more like party-planning, gets jilted by her longtime beau on what seems to be the same night she learns that her baby sister (Alexis Dziena) is to wed Umberto, a dashing Roman.

Beth, wistful about her lack of a partner and willful about putting work before love, is one of those dreamy and determined schizophrenics invented by screenwriters who locate conflict within a character rather than within the story. Bell is an accomplished comedienne, but is straitjacketed by the premise.

On the eve of a major museum fund-raiser, Beth takes off 48 hours to attend the wedding. She meets the best man, Nick (Josh Duhamel), and flirts with him before realizing that he is spoken for. Tipsy, she grabs five coins from the fountain, not realizing that she is pocketing the hearts of those who threw coins in the pool.

Conveniently, the coin-throwers are all men, all New Yorkers and four of them goofballs, respectively played by Will Arnett, Danny DeVito, Jon Heder, and Dax Shepard. (The identity of the fifth . . . isn't quite clear.) The cumulative effect is of a comic relief task force that cannot alleviate the pain of this train wreck.

As for the principals? Well, Bell, glowingly photographed by cinematographer John Bailey, is easy on the eyes. Duhamel resembles a third-string John Krasinski and has the timing of a broken watch.

There is also a practical problem that the filmmakers fail to solve. Duhamel is more than a foot taller than Bell and neither director Mark Steven Johnson nor Bailey can figure out how to effectively get them in the same shot, fatal for a movie romance.

The spiral-ramped Guggenheim is good for a visual joke or two, but is pretty much a missed opportunity in this inopportune affair.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/ flickgrrl.