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Love is also on the line in License to Wed, an unromantic uncomedy in which a young couple’s nuptial designs are pummeled by a minister, on the grounds that he’s teaching them how to sustain a successful marriage. Like Dr. Morales, the Rev. Frank (Robin Williams) is a meddling horror whose advice is of dubious utility. But this is one of those limp Hollywood throwaways that can’t even rouse itself long enough to decide what it thinks of its major characters. So when the story reaches what passes for its climax, Frank turns out to be a great guy, and everything and everybody are fine. Not that director Ken Kwapis or writers Kim Barker, Tim Rasmussen, and Vince Di Meglio present the final developments as if they really matter. Anticipating the likely audience reaction, the filmmakers’ ultimate instinct is just to flee the theater and forget the whole thing.
Another Gen-Y fable whose gender-role stereotyping would shame a Rock Hudson-Doris Day flick, License to Wed begins with love between a girlie-girl and a guy’s guy. Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) runs a small flower shop and seems to have only one hobby: applying eye shadow. Her lone friend is metrosexual blond moptop Carlisle (Eric Christian Olsen), a cheese connoisseur who could be a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy understudy. Sadie’s fiancé, Ben Murphy (John Krasinski), is sketched even more roughly. He might be some sort of sports coach and also has but one pal, Joel (DeRay Davis), who’s married and has kids and exists for two reasons: to illustrate the disadvantages of hubby- and daddyhood and to show that Sadie’s and Ben’s hometown (Chicago, although the movie was mostly shot in Vancouver) is not all white.
Ben asks Sadie to marry him at the 30th wedding anniversary of her pompous parents (Peter Strauss and Roxanne Hart) and is quickly strong-armed into agreeing that they’ll marry at her old church, St. Augustine’s. That name suggests a Catholic institution, but its spiritual boss is a polyglot priest—part gospel-shouting Southern Baptist, part psychobabbling Episcopalian, and part game-show host. (A late revelation pretty much excludes Frank’s being Catholic—or else he’s in big trouble.) St. Augustine’s is a busy place, and the couple must choose between a wedding date two years in the future and three weeks away. They take the latter, which requires a crash course in such subjects as arguing, driving while blindfolded, and obstetric pain. Plus, Frank requires the couples taking his class to abstain from sex. The minister’s assistant, a pudgy Mini-Me who’s a kid rather than a dwarf, wiretaps the couple’s apartment, so that Frank can listen from a van parked outside and then rush to their door whenever Ben and Sadie seem on the verge of physical intimacy. Of course, their desire dissipates as Frank teaches them to hate each other. But it’s for their own good, see?
The same can’t be said for License to Wed, which could not possibly benefit anyone. With its perfunctory battle-of-the-sexes theme and desperate backup jokes (including sentimental use of the word “fart” and robot babies who excrete bright blue artificial crap), the movie is a showcase for Hollywood’s worst instincts. It makes Kwapis’ previous outing, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, look like an epic. (At least that film had scenery.) Yet while the movie conceivably marks the end of Mandy Moore’s hapless cinematic career, it probably won’t damage Robin Williams’ zany-guy franchise. Who knows, he might show up next as a wacky Argentinian shrink counseling Freddie Prinze Jr. in a West Coast remake of The Treatment.