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Romance and Magic: It’s a Tricky Mix

A romantic comedy with a dusting of magic. When done right, this little subgenre is magic in itself. But when it misses the mark, it can be painfully mundane.

If you want proof, just consider 2007's "Enchanted," starring Amy Adams as an adorably naive cartoon princess stranded in real-life New York, and "When in Rome," starring Kristen Bell as a career-minded woman discovering true love with the help of a magical Roman fountain.

"Enchanted" welcomed us into a playful, slightly giddy world of fun and escape. But "When in Rome" delivers an unappealing story that somehow is both predictable and confusing.

It really would've been magic if it worked at all, since neither the writers nor the director seemed to have settled on what kind of movie they were trying to make. Their solution was to throw it all in and see what happens: bumbling pratfalls worthy of a "Three's Company" episode, fairy tales with no staying power, college boy humor — all wrapped up in second-rate "Sex and the City" window dressing.

The film's marketing focuses on a smiling Kristen Bell, posed with her pinkie finger coyly hovering at her lips in a careless sort of "oh well ... (giggle)." This makes sense since the film the studio is selling exudes the same tone. But match that up with Bell's character, a successful curator at New York's Guggenheim Museum who vehemently asserts her choice of career over love, and you get an incongruous, if not offensive, mess. The studio is clearly hoping that its target audience for this film (one can only assume it's teenage girls and whoever they drag with them to the theater), will be too distracted by the adorably, sassy star to take much offense.

In all honesty, all would be forgiven if Bell possessed enough natural charisma to make you buy into whatever she's selling. She may have had it on the "Veronica Mars" TV series, but she is not able to translate that energy to the big screen. She never really seems to relax and exudes more of a nervous clamoring to be simultaneously funny, cute and just a little sexy. This is not an easy feat, and you know it when you see it (think Cameron Diaz in "The Mask," her film debut). Josh Duhamel does seem at home in the leading-man role, though he and Bell possess zero chemistry together.

Bell and Duhamel are not entirely to blame. They were given little to work with in the script beyond their requisite good looks, extreme youthfulness, really cool jobs with inexplicably high salaries, and only one problem in the world between them — finding their soul mate.

The most intriguing part of the film is the diversity of the cast, which includes Anjelica Huston, Efren Ramirez (Pedro from "Napoleon Dynamite"), Don Johnson and even Shaquille O'Neal. But the supporting characters are really just there to shepherd the story along to its inevitable end. When they are brought to the forefront for brief comedic interludes, they quickly become an annoyance that only adds to the movie's overall disjointedness. This is particularly true of Bell's four other suitors played by Danny DeVito, Will Arnett, Jon Heder and Dax Shepard.

Ironically, the most genuine sequence in the film centers around an inanimate object — a vintage, sunny-yellow car, small enough to fit in an elevator for a quick ride to the fifth floor of the Guggenheim. We can only hope that this charismatic vehicle will get another shot in a film worthy of its adorableness.

"When in Rome." Rated: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. (Dog)

To find out more about Alison Gang and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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