Stars can't quite pull off this tired romantic farce

Posted: July 06, 2007

Since Shakespeare's time, there's been a hard-and-fast rule for romantic comedies. You've got to have a wedding.

License to Wed tests that truism, and how. This halting, sometimes sweet, sometimes silly, always insistent farce has a little romance, a little wedding wisdom, the odd nice moment and the nice odd moment, and Robin Williams, running at half speed.

That was enough to make RV a hit, and License could turn the same trick. But it's a pity that the movie, which Williams put about half his A-game into, is a stumbling stiff much of the time he's not around.

Williams riffs his way around a script that has him playing a control-freak preacher who puts a betrothed couple through the wringer before he'll preside over their nuptials at his gorgeous, pseudo-traditional/pseudo-hip church.

Mandy Moore and John Krasinski (Jim on TV's The Office) are the ready-to-weds. Sadie is prepping her dream wedding in the church her wealthy Chicago family helped build. Ben, like most grooms, is just along for the ride.

Enter Rev. Frank. He has a pushy, pint-sized and smart-mouthed Ministers of Tomorrow protege (Josh Flitter of Nancy Drew) and a crash course in married life that Sadie and Ben have three weeks to pass.

Rev. Frank baits Ben. He sets up word association/role reversal games sure to get a rise out of the couple, the in-laws and everybody else. He spies on them. He makes them agree to "no more sex" until the honeymoon.

And Ben slowly melts down as they tote mewling/puking robot infants to Macy's and pick out which nutty cheese to serve at the reception.

There's a promising premise here: Compress a lifetime of marital obstacles into few weeks. The sentiment is kind of sappy sweet. But the situations are frankly dull when Rev. Frank isn't there, and often dull when he is. Krasinski is getting a premature "next big thing" star push that he simply doesn't have the presence to pull off. He is all but a nonentity here. Moore is properly perky and moony and likable, but while they're believable as a couple, there isn't much comic heat to their disagreements.

Director Ken Kwapis (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) tosses in random laughs here and there (Jamaican bus passengers, a visit to a maternity ward with a Wanda Sykes cameo). But he's hard-pressed to take us anywhere the script-by-committee story hasn't lifted from a dozen other movies. (Unless you count the robot-baby diaper change.)

Williams, as has been reported elsewhere, had his long, dark rehab of the soul sometime after finishing this movie, which explains the Robo-on-slo-mo speed of his familiar patter.

The title and the genre promise us a wedding, as Shakespeare decreed. And there's a harmlessness to the humor that some will find comforting. But somewhere along the way, somebody should have pulled this License, at least until the writers found funnier stuff for everybody to do.

License to Wed *1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Ken Kwapis. With Mandy Moore, John Krasinski, Robin Williams. Distributed by Warner Bros.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (sexual humor, profanity)

Playing at: area theaters

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