In License to Wed, Ben and Sadie, a perfectly nice-seeming, personality-free couple (John Krasinski and Mandy Moore), meet at a Starbucks, fall in love and decide to marry. I'm sure you're as happy for them as I am. But wait. An obstacle lies between them and wedded bliss in the unctuous, smiling person of Robin Williams, who plays a minister with definite ideas about what it takes to make a marriage work.
What it takes is for Reverend Frank, as he is known, to harass, browbeat and humiliate the intendeds (Ben in particular) for three weeks, until they are ready to call it quits. Only if they can survive his brutal training course in matrimony - which starts with a bloody nose for the would-be groom and includes a hidden microphone in the bedroom and twin robot babies programmed to throw tantrums and soil diapers - will poor Sadie and Ben have what it takes to persevere till death do they part.
As for myself, I will confess that the only thing that kept me watching License to Wed until the end (apart from being paid to do so) was the faith, perhaps misplaced, that I will not see a worse movie this year. Come to think of it, the picture might be useful in certain circumstances, much in the way that Reverend Frank's training program is supposed to be. If the beloved with whom you see License to Wed can't stop talking about how great it was, you might want to cancel the nuptials. Or, if it's too late for that, call a lawyer.
Slickly directed by Ken Kwapis from an incoherent and derivative script by writers whose anonymity it may be kinder to protect, License contains not a single emotionally credible or comically revealing moment. Instead it is a fabric of cliches, from Ben's best buddy, Joel (DeRay Davis), whom marriage and fatherhood have rendered completely stupid, to Carlisle (Eric Christian Olsen), Sadie's metrosexual confidant and a pale approximation of the character played by Owen Wilson in Meet the Parents.
DIRECTED BY: Ken Kwapis
Starring: Robin Williams (Reverend Frank), Mandy Moore (Sadie Jones), John Krasinski (Ben Murphy), Christine Taylor (Lindsey Jones), Eric Christian Olsen (Carlisle), Josh Flitter (Choirboy)
RUNNING TIME: 101 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
Also in the background are Christine Taylor, doing her best in a nastily conceived role as Sadie's bitter, boozy, divorced older sister, and Josh Flitter as Reverend Frank's young sidekick. Young Flitter, the designated irritant in Nancy Drew, here does his utmost to prevent Williams from being the most annoying person in the movie. Remarkably, he succeeds, since Williams shows impressive restraint (or perhaps just fatigue) when it comes to breaking out the funny accents and rapid-fire non sequiturs.
The terribleness of License to Wed is not really Williams' fault, in any case. A job is a job. But it is sometimes hard to tell whether Reverend Frank is meant to be one of his creepy, villainous performances (as in One Hour Photo or Insomnia) or to belong in his much larger gallery of twinkly, warmhearted menschen.
Here is a clergyman (Frank's high-churchy denomination is not specified, maybe for fear of protests) whose only companion, day and night, seems to be a prepubescent boy. ("Reverend Frank is everywhere," the youngster marvels. Ick.) The good pastor seems a bit too eager to ask "our little Stacy" what she likes to do in bed. He also launches into a mini-tirade at one point about Sadie's supposed "liberal college" and "bisexual roommate." Surely this film is a scabrous, cynical satire of religious authority run amok.
Surely not. It is only the latest attempt by a Hollywood studio to pander to prurience and piety in a single gesture, and to avoid giving offense by treating all possible factions of the public equally, which is to say like idiots. Ben, quite reasonably objecting to Reverend Frank's intrusiveness, is portrayed as selfish and clueless, while Sadie's cheerful acceptance of the minister's wisdom is evidence of her own. And Frank is wrecking their happiness only for their own good, pretending (one guesses) to be a vile caricature conjured from a cesspool of atheist calumny in order to steer his lambs onto the path of righteousness and decency.