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When in Rome

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

While the familiar proverb that supplies its title ultimately derives from the advice of one church father (St. Ambrose of Milan) quoted in the writings of another (St. Augustine of Hippo), the perky romantic comedy "When in Rome" (Touchstone) draws on the Eternal City's religious heritage only incidentally.

The graceful 17th-century church of St. Mary Magdalene—known colloquially as La Maddalena—does, however, provide the setting for the marriage ceremony at which its two main characters first meet and begin to fall in love.

Beth (Kristen Bell) is a work-obsessed curator at New York's Guggenheim Museum who has reluctantly taken 48 hours of personal time to serve as her sister Joan's (Alexis Dziena) maid of honor. The gent catching Beth's eye is best man Nick (Josh Duhamel), once Italian groom Umberto's (Luca Calvani) college roommate, and now a Gotham sportswriter.

Despite Beth's unhappy track record in previous relationships, the pair quickly bond during the lavish reception. But just as Beth's hopes begin to rise, she witnesses an incident that convinces her that Nick is a frivolous cad.

Wading despondently through the waters of the nearby "Fountain of Love," Beth shows her renewed cynicism by removing several of the coins that passers-by customarily toss into the basin for good luck in matters of the heart. According to the film's fanciful mythology, this ill-advised gesture immediately causes the quartet of eccentric strangers who deposited the change to become hopelessly infatuated with her.

So, once back in the Big Apple, Beth finds herself being relentlessly pursued and incongruously wooed by sausage magnate Al (Danny DeVito), street magician Lance (John Heder), aspiring artist Antonio (Will Arnett) and Gale (Dax Shepard), a would-be model enthralled by his own physique.

Though Nick eventually regains Beth's trust, successfully explaining away his apparent misbehavior, another obstacle arises when Beth suspects a poker chip she also retrieved from the fountain is his, meaning that he is merely under a spell and not freely— and therefore truly—in love.

Father Dino (Keir O'Donnell), the youthful, slightly pixilated priest who performs Joan and Umberto's nuptials, and who reappears in a couple of last-reel scenes, comes in for some gentle ribbing. But he's essentially an appealing character, and the closest the humor comes to anything remotely troublesome is the sight of him break dancing in his chasuble over the closing credits.

Otherwise, director Mark Steven Johnson's pleasantly diverting ensemble piece is mostly worry-free, with only a fleeting scene of newlywed friskiness that sees Joan in the kitchen wearing only an apron and Umberto, embracing her from behind, wearing apparently nothing at all, to bar endorsement for teens.

The film contains brief nongraphic marital lovemaking with implied nudity, mildly irreverent portrayal of a clergyman and a few crass expressions. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

John Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at

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