Congratulations are due to director Ken Kwapis for License to Wed. He’s finally made a movie that will make you appreciate his 1996 simian stinker Dunston Checks In. After 10 minutes of License to Wed, you’ll be waxing nostalgic for the glory days of seeing an orangutan hit Faye Dunaway in the face with a gooey cake. Indeed, you may well wish that the orangutan in question would wander onto the set with a small thermonuclear device and spare the cast of this monstrosity further embarassment. It’s almost equally remarkable that the film is every bit as obnoxious as its trailer made it seem—kudos for honest marketing.
The whole premise of the film is pretty untenable. Let’s start with the idea that any church in its right mind would allow itself to be represented by Robin Williams. Maybe that’s supposed to be part of the joke. If so, it doesn’t work because the script keeps insisting that we should take his character seriously and buy into the idea that his seemingly immense congregation just dotes on him. Put plainly, Reverend Frank is the minister from hell. No, it’s not just the fact that the character’s every word tends to be grounded in increasingly tiresome pop culture references that are apparently supposed to be funny just because the viewer recognizes the source. (Note to writers: The reference to a bush in the shape of Shirley Bassey in Shrek 2 was funny because of its absurdity, not because it was a random reference to Shirley Bassey.)
The problem goes much deeper. No matter how you slice it, and no matter how much of a good-hearted soul the film tries to paint him, Reverend Frank is a creepy voyeur. And his creepiness is enhanced by giving him Mason Reese-clone Josh Flitter (Nancy Drew) as some kind of “minister in training” as a sidekick. The whole idea of this mentor-protegé relationship between Williams and Flitter (the kid seems to be with him 24/7) is questionable to say the least, and it’s made even worse by the fact that no one appears to question it.
Just as bad is Reverend Frank’s pre-marital training course—as remarkable an essay in intrusive sadism as can be imagined. Show me a person who would submit to Reverend Frank’s marriage course, and I’ll show you a person who’d drink the Kool-Aid, too. But in the name of comedy, we’re supposed to buy into the idea that Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore, who once again is better than the material she’s given) and Ben Murphy (John Krasinski, TV’s The Office) would do so. Of course, if they didn’t, there’d be no film—and that would suit me just fine.
The idea is that Sadie and Ben will take the course and much mirth will follow. What actually follows is much desperation. If a movie could have flop-sweat, this movie would be dripping with it. Every gag falls flat, but just keeps going, like Williams’ chronic discharge of the speech center, in the apparent belief that maybe no one will notice. When a gag has outlived every possible potential for amusement, it’s simply dropped. Take the business where Sadie and Ben are saddled with these truly disturbing-looking robot babies for a taste of parenthood. It’s supposed to be part of the test, but once every flatulence, urination and defecation joke has been beaten into the ground, the movie forgets about them—despite the fact that one of the ersatz infants is minus a head. One might rightly think that decapitating a baby would at least knock a few points off your score, but nothing about this clearly non-Dr. Spock faux pas is ever mentioned.
Most of the time the movie just flails around in search of anything that might fill its running time. There’s even a largely incomprehensible montage set to a weirdly edited-down version of a relatively obscure Madness song, “It Must Be Love,” which has no bearing on the proceedings. Naturally, all this witless tastelessness is headed toward life lessons being learned and happiness for all concerned. Their happiness will not equal yours when you see the credits finally rolling. Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and language.