"License to Wed" is set on a plane of existence not inhabited by intelligent life, but by widespread nincompoops. Directed by Ken Kwapis (2005's "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
"), this misbegotten romantic comedy is light on laughs but heavy on the sort of dumbed-down plotting and monotonously strained conflicts that leave the viewer wanting to physically slap some sense into the characters. If these one-dimensional dimwits were given even an ounce of credit for being smart people, perhaps the far-fetched premise would be more palatable. As is, the would-be hijinks and crises pile up as they fail to react to situations in a plausible manner and never come right out and say the things that could solve all their problems.
Ben Murphy (John Krasinski) and Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) share a meet-cute at a coffee shop, begin to date, eventually move in together, and happily become engaged six months later. Ben suggests a tropical wedding, but goes along with Sadie's wishes when she admits that she has always dreamed of getting married in the hometown church where her parents were betrothed. Officiating the ceremony will be Reverend Frank (Robin Williams), but there's one catch: he requires that all his couples participate in an extensive marriage preparation course. Sadie and Ben agree, but their relationship is quickly put into disarray by Reverend Frank's unorthodox tests and challenges. Suddenly, both of them are faced with the question of whether or not they are compatible enough to withstand a committed, lifelong relationship.
"License to Wed" is irritating in its stupidity, and at least some of the blame should be handed to novice screenwriters Kim Barker, Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio. The premise has comic potentialany premise has potential if done rightbut it is treated with the same level of condescension as the characters are. Reverend Frank is supposed to mean well in the long run, one supposes, but that does not excuse him for assaulting Ben with a baseball, breaking-and-entering and bugging their apartment, putting them in harm's way when he demands that Sadie be blindfolded as Ben verbally guides her down busy city streets, and generally making a mockery of their emotions. When Ben eventually discovers that Reverend Frank has bugged their home and been listening to their intimate conversations, he does not share this knowledge with the oblivious Sadie, but decides to investigate into Frank's past. When the truth finally comes out, it is done as a one-sentence throwaway that is quickly swept under the rug and never dealt with.
Time and again, Ben and Sadie act in such maddening ways that you find yourself wishing they would break free of the misguided, paper-thin screenplay they have found themselves in and start communicating like real people. Ben is suspicious of Reverend Frank's teachings from the get-go, but never shares one mature conversation with Sadie about his honest feelings on the subject. Sadie, meanwhile, is so self-involved that she doesn't have time to use her brain at all, blissfully going along with Frank's instructions as if he can say and do no wrong. Why she puts such trust in him is one of the film's biggest mysteries, since it is established early on that she hasn't attended his church in ten years. When a falling-out sends her running to Jamaica with her family, and then not even giving Ben the time of day when he calls her up and plainly states that he has something important to tell her, the viewer can only fantasize about a volcano erupting near their resort and wiping them all out.
In his first leading-man role, John Krasinski (2006's "The Holiday
") is affable enough to envision that he might be good with material that doesn't make him look like a jackass. As Sadie, Mandy Moore is too charismatic a performer to be wasting her time in thankless garbage like this and 2007's "Because I Said So
." Robin Williams (2006's "RV
") is in full-on one-liner mode as the nosey, inarguably criminal Reverend Frank. He sneaks in a few zingers that hit their mark, but is overshadowed by a character that is naggingly unpleasant. Josh Flitter, so winning in 2007's "Nancy Drew
," is saddled with the strange part of a young kid being mentored by Frank. With nary a mention of parents or guardians, and able to hop on a plane to Jamaica with Frank at a moment's notice, Flitter's close camaraderie with a middle-aged priest is suspicious and peculiar to say the least. Perhaps the best performance of them all is that of DeRay Davis (2007's "Code Name: The Cleaner
"), as Ben's unhappily married buddy Joel. Davis has more life and personality and wisdom to him than anyone else on the screen.
As a love story, "License to Wed" is a black hole. Ben and Sadie's relationship is never developed enough to get a sense of what they have in common and see in each other, and so it makes no difference to the viewer whether or not they will go through with their nuptials. As a comedy, the movie squeezes out a handful of successful comic bitsthe couple's misadventures with a pair of animatronic babies in a department store is probably a high pointbut more often than not sets up jokes that never come. For example, when Reverend Frank cooks up a word association game where Ben is supposed to go around the room and spout out the first word that comes to mind about each of Sadie's family members, the outcome switches from lightly humorous to mean-spirited and then cuts to the next scene before a punchline arrives. Filled to the brim with broad caricatures and cutesy, forced dialogue that no one in the free world would ever be heard saying, "License to Wed" is insulting in its disdain for an audience expected to buy into the continuously manipulative tripe served up.