Tuesday, November 13, 2007

License To Wed

Director: Ken Kwapis
Starring: Robin Williams, Mandy Moore, John Krasinki, Eric Christian Olsen, Christine Taylor, Josh Flitter

Running Time: 91 min.

Rating: PG-13

*1/2 (out of ****)

The funniest thing about the romantic comedy License To Wed is that seemingly intelligent actors read the script for the film and actually thought it would be a good career move to appear in it. Or at least that would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. A couple of weeks ago while watching Ebert & Roeper At The Movies I remember guest critic Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune remarking that the acting is usually the last thing to go wrong in a motion picture. He's right and that intelligent observation is on full display here. The performances aren't necessarily bad (although they're nothing to write home about) but it really wouldn't make a difference anyway.

In what has to be a first, the movie openly admits its two main characters are bland. They seem almost proud of the fact, bringing it up at various points during the picture. Is that really something you want to brag about? Did they think acknowledging that the main characters are boring would absolve them from the fact they actually are?

There is one exciting character, but he's an insane, demented creep no one could root for. As a priest who makes the one arrested for stalking Conan O' Brien look well adjusted, Robin Williams gives it his all, irritatingly hamming it up and maintaining his reputation of being a great dramatic actor who lowers himself in comedies like this for a fat payday. I'll try to comfort myself by rationalizing all the actors took these roles because of the number of zeros on the paycheck. It's the only possible explanation. This film is a complete disaster and makes me hope screenwriters Kim Barker, Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Melgio don't suddenly get the urge to cross the picket line.

After a brief and unfunny "meet cute" at a Starbucks Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) thinks she's found the man of her dreams in Ben Murphy (The Office's John Krasinki). This seems to happen overnight as the movie spends no time letting us get to know them at all and rushes right into a marriage proposal from Ben at Sadie's parents' anniversary party. Sadie has her heart set on them marrying at the family's church, St. Augustine's, whose only open slot is available in three weeks. But before tying the knot the church requires they complete a "prenuptial course" run by the very bizarre Reverend Frank (Williams).

This "course" consists of various exercises designed specifically for Sadie and Ben to get on one another's nerves and test the waters so they're ready for marriage. Unfortunately these exercises do nothing but test the viewers' nerves and patience as we're treated to Reverend Frank's grilling on their sex life, his bugging of their apartment, blindfolded driving, and a gag involving robotic twin babies. Supposedly there were many complaints from various groups concerning the simulated babies, and given how realistic they look and what happens to them and I can't say I blame them.

Call me prudish but I fail to find the humor in a priest stalking a young couple or making off color sexual comments in front of children. Given what's been happening lately with priests this doesn't seem like the best way to mine laughs. What laughs do come are from the sexual conversations, but it doesn't have anything to do with what Reverend Frank says. It's the absurd notion that we're supposed to believe this bland couple was actually having sex, or even know what sex is. They're so boring the thought of them even having sex is virtually implausible. They're probably asexual. Sadie and Ben may as well be called "Jack and Jill" since they're just basically cardboard cutouts standing there delivering dialogue for an hour and a half. By the end of the film we've learned nothing more about them than when we went in.

The supporting characters are written with a little more flare but that's of no help since they're all annoying. Josh Flitter plays Reverend Frank's young apprentice and comes off as the worst possible hybrid of Andy Milonakis and a junior Jonah Hill. After nearly destroying last year's The Last Kiss, Eric Christian Olsen is thankfully relegated to less screen time here as Sadie's loyal best friend. Christine Taylor is the stereotypical older sister with relationship issues even though she's clearly too old for the role. Another Office star, Mindy Kaling, plays a nagging wife friend since it's common knowledge that wives just nag and nag all day long while their husbands don't assert themselves.

At various points during the picture Ben's future father-in-law describes him as "affable" and "vanilla" and we realize these terms could also apply to the actor playing him. Krasinki may turn into a capable leading man down the line but here he's given nothing to work with. No one is. Wikipedia notes that Mandy Moore's role in this film is a "career high." Thankfully, it refers to the box office take because she fails to register at all. She's apologized in the past for early albums she's released so here's hoping when she starts picking better film roles and shows us what we know she's capable of as an actress, we'll get a public apology for this.

The movie was directed by Ken Kwapis, who honed his craft on episodes of The Office (which likely explains Krasinki's leading presence), but that's a smart show with clever writing. Its worst episode has more value than anything here. Kwapis, who's shockingly helming one of 2008's most anticipated romantic comedies, the star-studded He's Just Not That Into You, doesn't impress but I don't think there's a living director who could have done anything with this material. A more appropriate title for this film would have been: How To Lose Laughs and Alienate Viewers.

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