License to WedReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/02/07 23:03:12
Although the notion of spending 90 minutes watching Robin Williams as an extra-wacky man of the cloth might strike most right-minded people as being the kind of torture that even Eli Roth might find too cruel and grisly to inflict on people, I actually found myself walking into the screening of “License to Wed” with something relatively close to an upbeat attitude. For starters, it co-stars Mandy Moore, a singer-actress who I continue to find quite endearing even though she has had the recent misfortune of co-starring in both last year’s worst film (“American Dreamz”) and a heavy favorite to snatch this year’s title (“Because I Said So”). More importantly, many of the people involved with the film–co-star John Krasinski, director Ken Kwapis and supporting players Mindy Kaling, Angela Kinsey and Brian Baumgartner–have come directly to it from the set of “The Office,” arguably the most consistently funny show currently on commercial television (with the possible exceptions of “30 Rock” and “24"). Since the humor of “The Office” is the kind of sly, nuanced wit that doesn’t exactly work well in the context of a two-minute movie trailer, I was holding out hope that the studio simply decided to cram the more obvious Robin Williams schtick into the previews to lure in the people who made cash cows out of such dross as “RV” and “Night at the Museum” and that the actual film would be more in the vein of “The Office.”As theories go, that was a perfectly sound one but within the first ten minutes, I realized that I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had tried. Instead, this is an embarrassment from start to finish that fails so completely as a comedy that even Michael Scott himself might find it somewhat on the lame side. Let me put it this way. The day that “License to Wed” screened for the press, it took the third slot of the day after Werner Herzog’s harrowing war drama “Rescue Dawn” and Michael Moore’s muckraking health-care expose “Sicko.” Not only are both of those films infinitely better than “License to Wed,” there are more genuine laughs to be had in each one of those movies than in the one that is theoretically supposed to be a comedy in the first place.
Krasinski and Moore play Ben and Sadie, an adorable couple who meet cute in a coffee shop, fall in love with each other’s bland smiles and non-threatening personas and eventually decide to get married. Although Ben wants to get married in the tropics, it turns out that Sadie has always had her heart set on getting married in the church that her family always went to (though she admits that she hasn’t set foot in the place for about ten years) and having the service presided over by the irreverent Reverend Frank (Williams). How irreverent is Reverend Frank, you might ask? So irreverent that he teaches kids about the 10 Commandments using a game inspired by “Family Feud” and voices inspired by some of his less-inspired talk show appearances. So irreverent that when he delivers a sermon, it actually features rim-shots. So irreverent that he follows up the rim-shot with “But seriously. . .” Under normal circumstances, the very fact that Sadie would find this schtick endearing enough to make it a part of her wedding would be a clear signal to Ben that he might want to rethink the whole marriage thing, but no, he is willing to go along with this particularly questionable dream. There are a couple of hitches. First, since Reverend Frank’s two-drink-minimum ceremonies are apparently wildly popular, the only available slot for the next two years is in three weeks. Second, if Ben and Sadie hope to get married at the church, they have to pass Reverend Frank’s allegedly foolproof marriage preparation course to see if they are truly compatible and ready to wed. Under normal circumstances, Ben and Sadie would no doubt say thanks, but no thanks and look into getting hitched at the nearest chapel, synagogue, lighthouse or movie theater. Unfortunately for us in the audience, Ben and Sadie understand that they are in an implausible comedy and agree to take the course.
The course, such as it is, bears no resemblance to any pre-marriage counseling that you or I have ever heard of–the various steps seem to have been created solely because of their ability to supply Robin Williams with potential material for his hi-jinks. He plays a game of catch with Ben that ends with Ben getting smacked in the nose with a ball and Frank and his wacky pre-teen sidekick (Josh Flitter) trying to cure his nosebleed by chanting “The power of Christ compels you!” (And this is probably as good a time as any to point out the fact that, no doubt in an effort to avoid offending any potential audience member, aside from those with a sense of humor, the film never quite gets around to saying what denomination Reverend Frank belongs to, though his antics would easily get him excommunicated from all of them–even the Lutherans would have kicked him t the curb.) At a local bar, there is some role-reversal where Ben and Sadie suddenly tear into each other for no apparent reason. There is a trip to the maternity ward where a wacky nurse (Wanda Sykes) lets them roam around at will. There is even–and God help me, I am not making this up–a pair of ugly and wildly elaborate (at least when it comes to reproducing bodily functions) robot babies that Ben and Sadie are given to simulate what family life will be like should they ever work up the energy to reproduce. While Sadie seems fine with all of this–she even engages in sex talk with Reverend Frank when he unexpectedly drops by for a late-night visit–Ben is increasingly driven to distraction and when he discovers that their apartment has been bugged by the reverend (see, even the Unitarians wouldn’t put up with that), he tries to dig up proof that the guy is a fraud or something. Of course, these attempts all blow up in his face–and he unaccountably doesn’t even mention the bugging–until it looks as though the wedding may be off for good.
To list all of the failings of “License to Wed” would require far too much of an effort than I am willing to give to a film that I would give very much to forget that I ever saw, so I will merely hone in on a few of the key flaws. The first, and most glaring, is the unavoidable fact that Reverend Frank, instead of being the daringly delightful cut-up that he was presumably designed to be, is one of the most irritating movie characters to grace the screen in a long time. He is an overbearing twerp who has apparently let the power of his collar go to his–this might have been funny if the film realized that he was an obnoxious monster and went from there but it seems as serenely convinced about his alleged charm and whimsy as he clearly is. Then there is the fact that everyone in the film, save for Ben (who tries to “expose” the man in the most inept ways imaginable), seems to think that Reverend Frank is an utter delight, a reaction that only serves to underscore my suspicion that all of the characters have had their brains replaced with bacon bits.
As for that fabled “Office” connection–the very aspect that I was basing all my hopes for the film upon–it turns out to be a big, fat zero as well. Instead of demonstrating anything resembling wit, the screenplay (written, I hasten to add, by people who have never written, or perhaps even watched, “The Office”) aims for laughs by having Sadie’s wedding ring accidentally inscribed with the word “fart” or having Reverend Frank attend a wine-and-cheese reception and say “Praise Gouda!” Instead of allowing Krasinski to demonstrate the sleepy charm that he displays on the show every week, the film turns him into a pathetic Ben Stiller clone. Instead of letting the other “Office” castmates show off their comedic chops, they are given hacky bits of schtick that even the lowliest day player would be mortified to enact. And not only does Kwapis never show the flair for droll comedy that he does so effortlessly on the show, he makes the entire film look and sound like the kind of hacky sitcom that “The Office” stands as a rebuke to week after week.How does a film as awful as “License to Wed” manage to make it through the apparatus of contemporary studio filmmaking in the first place? At some point during its evolution, didn’t one person have the nerve to speak out and say that there was absolutely nothing in it of any comedic value? Once they received the final version of the film, wasn’t there one brave soul at the studio with the guts to recognize that it was a disaster and suggest that it might be better off for all concerned if it were placed on a shelf and hidden away from view for a long, long time (or at least until January, when most studio misfires are usually dumped on an increasingly suspecting public)? Well, evidently not and the proof of that can now be seen in your local theater and let me tell you–“License to Wed” is so awful that if I had to choose between sitting through it or “RV” again, I would actually have to sit and think about it for a while and perhaps even ask if “Transformers” could be offered as a third option.
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