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License to Wed Print E-mail
Friday, 01 February 2008
Image“License to Wed” has all the earmarks of the perfect Robin Williams vehicle. One, he gets to play a character so far outside the realm of reality that audiences should be riveted to their seats waiting to see what he does next. Two, he has the opportunity to adlib a lot and go completely nuts.

Instead, Williams plays Reverend Frank too low-key in most spots and is too offensive in others. Sadly, most of his over-the-top behavior as the church pastor has been seen before, or is expected of him. When he’s playing catch with Ben Murphy (John Krasinski) and deliberately hits him in the nose with a baseball, Reverend Frank goes over to “heal” him. What spews out of his mouth is pure Robin Williams, but it’s Robin Williams that all his fans have heard before. As a result, that effort languishes on the screen, stays there painfully long, and is finally gone.

The offensive stuff comes in when Reverend Frank is dropping sexual innuendo like an Air Force bomardier dropping a “spray and pray” payload. Much of it falls flat, and a good deal more of it is predictable after the set-up is made. Most fans will supply lines before Reverend Frank says them.

The worst part about it, particularly in the first section, is that the language and innuendo don’t derive from the character. They come out of Robin Williams, making these scenes identifiable as the comic stepping out of Reverend Frank’s shoes.
Another instance is the “Family Feud” style Bible study in Reverend Frank’s introductory scene. It’s so corny that it’s more like second grade humor than anything else. The choice to have Reverend Frank have a juvenile sidekick in a movie with this subject matter just doesn’t ring true. Josh Flitter stars as Choir Boy and is funny at times, but every time he’s funny, most watchers are going to be reminded they’re watching a movie. He’s like a red flag being waved in the face of the audience to pull them out of any thin willing-suspension-of-disbelief.

The movie plot is so thin that it’s not even a skeleton of a plot. Mandy Moore stars as Sadie Jones, a young woman who’s decided she wants to get married by the family reverend, who turns out to be a real hardnose about the sanctity of wedding vows. John Krasinski is Ben, her clueless fiancé still trying to figure out his place in Sadie’s life, much less deal with someone as weird as Reverend Frank. Throw in a family consisting of the seemingly perfect parents (Peter Strauss and Roxanne Hart), a hard-drinking grandmother (Grace Zabriskie), and a neurotic sister (Mindy Kaling), as well as Ben’s henpecked best friend (DeRay Davis), and Sadie’s too-perfect guy friend (Eric Christian Olsen as Carlisle), and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, it’s a disaster for the film as well. The pieces are all there, but no one works hard to sell them. The jokes and the weird circumstances just fall into place. This has all the awkwardness of “Meet The Parents” without the laughs and twisted sense of humor. What Robert De Niro pulls off so masterfully in that film, Robin Williams fumbles in this one. But I don’t think that was all his fault. The scripted character was just too creepy to work for me. Once Reverend Frank starts bugging Ben and Sadie’s room, I stopped believing in the character.

The script tends to be something of a mess. The first part is touching, as is the last when Ben calls Sadie to her hotel window to see what he’s written in the sand. But the sixty minutes or so in between those bookends is more like a mishmash of “what can we have Reverend Frank put our couple through?”

Out of the laundry list of things Reverend Frank has Ben and Sadie do, the robot babies are the absolute bottom of the barrel to me. I hated the whole idea. The fact that they blew snot, had gas, and pooped wasn’t funny. (My young son was more distracted by how they got the robot babies to do that in the first place.) It bordered on gross, then fell right over into the dumpster. The funniest bit for me was when Ben gets frustrated and beats the crying robot baby against a counter so hard its head launches. I felt his pain, and I cheered and laughed. But the movie left that hanging. What did Reverend Frank say when Ben took the broken baby back? I would have liked to have seen that.

When Choir Boy broke into Ben and Sadie’s house to plant the eavesdropping device was a deal-breaker too. I immediately knew it would never happen. Later, when Reverend Frank asks Sadie all kinds of sexual questions, I was appalled. They hadn’t gone to him for that kind of help, and that certainly went way beyond what Reverend Frank was there to do, in my opinion. The couples segment that Ben and Sadie joined in was stupid beyond belief. At that point it was like the writers and the director sat down and asked what the most absurd things were that they could put the characters through.

To be fair, Mandy Moore plays the wide-eyed ingénue so well that I can’t help but think she’s got a big break awaiting her. She’s appealing and innocent, and she delivers her performance with real feeling. Krasinski’s heart is in the right place, but some of the scenes, especially the one where he breaks into Reverend Frank’s house, catch him off-stride. He’s awkward and flat, and not funny.

Director Ken Kwapis has worked on “The Office”, “The Bernie Mac Show”, “Malcolm in the Middle”, and other sit-coms and movies. He has the chops to turn out good material, but he’s got to start with good material. The conceit of the film is pretty good, but the execution of the script didn’t deliver on the promise. It pretty much strait-jacketed Kwapis. You can make weak stuff look better, but you can’t disguise weakness.

I did enjoy parts of the film. Ben’s flipbook of vows was both a surprise and a belly laugh. Ben’s final offering to Sadie at the end of the movie was touching. That’s about it. There’s nothing I can point to that Robin Williams did that really stands out. That’s unusual for one of his films.

The special features section lacks somewhat as well, but that’s a reflection of the movie. The commentary was okay, as was the featurette on the-making-of, but the deleted scenes section is good for another reason. As I watched the deleted scenes, I knew immediately why they’d been cut, but they also show how far afield the writers went in the middle of the movie. They just wandered everywhere.

The HD presentation of the film is high quality. The message Ben inscribes in the sand at the end of the movie is clear and clean. The colors, though we don’t really get to see much scenic use of color till we reach Jamaica, are bright and vibrant. This film doesn’t really challenge or bring out the best of high-def, but it’s clean and beautiful.

The audio portions of the movie are presented in TrueHD and sound great. But, again, there’s not much in this film to show off the home surround sound systems. There aren’t any musical numbers or heightened scenes of action.

“License to Wed” isn’t an interesting movie. It’s an uninspired walk in the park. Nothing more than going through the motions with a few highlights, but not enough to make me want to recommend it to anyone. Robin Williams’s fans probably won’t care that much about this one. But I have faith in him. Give Robin Williams the right property and the man can still give you the moon.

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