'License to Wed' a weak farce from 'The Office' crew

Posted: July 03, 2007

Dismissing "License to Wed" as a comedy unworthy of a sitcom is to insult sitcoms.

The movie, after all, features a half dozen cast members of TV's popular "The Office," represents the first lead movie role for "Office" star John Krasinski, and is directed by Ken Kwapis, who's helmed several episodes.

"The Office" shows how some TV sitcoms have grown and evolved - away from laugh tracks and punchline comedy, toward satire and (in the case of "The Office") the motifs of documentary film.

"License to Wed," though, is a different animal. A rabid squirrel, maybe. Certainly something noisy, irksome and hard to warm up to.

Krasinski stars as Ben, a guy in love with his soulmate (Mandy Moore), newly engaged and ready to take marriage counseling from a wacky cleric named Rev. Frank (Robin Williams in zany mode).

Rev. Frank is instantly annoying - when we meet him, for instance, he's using sexual innuendo and dated catchphrases to provide "hip" counseling to a roomful of kids. He's quizzing them on the Ten Commandments - correct answers appear behind him on a giant working replica of a "Family Feud" game board, the kind of thing that could only exist on a movie set.

So right away, "License to Wed" announces that it's a complete farce, at best a showcase for Williams on one of his free-associative frenzies. Which would be OK, except that Kwapis wants to return, with earnestness, to the young couple's relationship as it frays under the stress of Rev. Frank's pre-nup boot camp.

The Rev.'s method is to compress the stress of marriage into the span of few grueling weeks, to see if the prospective couple can stand it (something that was done more artfully in "Knocked Up").

Tactics include saddling the couple with a pair of mechanical babies that scream, belch snot, shoot blue poop and look like Telly Savalas. Would-be crescendo features exasperated Ben bashing a mechanical baby's head against a cosmetics counter as horrified shoppers look on.

Slapstick gags grate against scenes of heartbroken Moore (thoroughly wasted here), inexplicably oblivious to the Rev.'s outrageous behavior, slowly concluding that her fiance lacks the stuff for marriage.

Meanwhile, a comic chemistry is meant to develop between Ben and the Rev. Frank. It's conceptually promising: Krasinski's comic signature, a kind of soft-spoken counterpunching, would seem to be a decent match for Williams' antics.

But when a character slams him as being a little too "vanilla," it seems all too apt. If Krasinski is going to be a star on the big screen, he needs to show us a few more moves. *

Produced by Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Nick Osborne, Robert Simonds, directed by Ken Kwapis, written by Kim Barker, Tim Rasmussen, Vince Di Meglio, music by Christophe Beck, distributed by Warner Bros.

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