License to Wed (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

No matter how hard I try, I'm finding it difficult to write anything positive about License to Wed. This movie is bad from top to bottom, front to back, and start to finish. Many romantic comedies sacrifice humor in favor of romance; this one isn't romantic either. If this was the debut outing for Robin Williams or Mandy Moore, neither would get another job. Williams is as unfunny as he has ever been and Moore shows no evidence of charisma or charm. At least License to Wed wasn't so godawful that I wanted to drive a spike through my head to make the pain stop, and when it was all over, I didn't run gibbering up the aisle in a frantic break for the exit.

In a catastrophic miscalculation for a romantic comedy, License to Wed rushes through the "meet cute" and "getting to know you" phases of the relationship between Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) and Ben Murphy (John Krasinski). Ten minutes into the film, they're engaged and talking about churches and setting a date. Sadie has her heart set on getting married in the church where her grandfather designed a stained glass door. In order for that to happen, she and her fiancé have to pass a "wedding class" presided over by the kindly Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) and his pint-sized protégé (Josh Flitter). Tasks include learning how to argue with one another, taking care of creepy mechanical babies, abstinence, and telling off the in-laws. In order to get the inside scoop on whether the soon-to-be-happy couple are following his instructions, Reverend Frank bugs their bedroom. That way, he can listen to their pillow talk as Sadie informs Ben that he's going to have to wait until the honeymoon and he tries to change her mind.

There was a time when the presence of Robin Williams in the cast of a comedy meant that, no matter how bad the material, there would still be laughter. I don't know whether License to Wed is the biggest comedic flop of Williams' career, but it's close. Director Ken Kwapis has muzzled his manic energy and the script doesn't give him a decent punch line to utter. Plus, the character is so creepy that it makes the experience of viewing Reverend Frank unsettling. I suppose there could be something funny about a pervert voyeur minister spying on his wedding class clients, but not in this movie.

The so-called comedy consists of the usual for PG-13 fare: bodily function jokes, slapstick and other physical humor, sex jokes, and embarrassing situations. None of these things are inherently bad, but the filmmakers don't have a clue what's funny and there's no evidence of comedic timing. The gags are so obvious and clumsily set up that there might as well be a laugh track. It's like a bad Saturday Night Live skit that doesn't want to end. I don't know whether or not Williams had any input into the screenplay and, considering the result, I don't know whether it would be more alarming if he did or if he didn't.

Sometimes, unfunny romantic comedies are redeemed, at least in part, by a winning love story. Unfortunately, Borat is more romantic than License to Wed. Mandy Moore and John Krasinski exhibit less chemistry that one might find in a junior high science lab. The filmmakers clearly want us to become invested in their relationship - otherwise, the ending wouldn't be so unforgivably sentimental - but it doesn't work. An idle viewer might find himself wishing that the terrorists attacking John McClane in the auditorium next door would break through the theater wall and take out everyone involved in License to Wed. Now that would be something to shout "Yippee kiyay!" about.

License to Wed (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2007-07-03
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1