Review: 'License' lacks Williams' usual spark

There was a time when the engagement period was chaste; the sex came after the vows. In some cases there might even be a chaperone present at all encounters between the betrothed, the distance kept between the two leaving many surprises beyond the threshold: bad breath, nocturnal flatulence, and the ability to recite the dialogue of every repeat episode of “Law and Order” were all part of the post-nuptual discovery process.

To the regret of some, those days are slipping away. Living together before tying the knot is common, giving people a chance to get to experience each other’s moods, hygiene, and of course, sexual preferences.

In “License to Wed,” Father Frank (Robin Williams) of St. Augustine’s church has reluctantly gone along with the flow, although he points out to couplesthat the liberalized approach has not helped the divorce rate. So he suggests a marriage-prep course, which they must past if he is to bless their union.

Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) has always dreamed of getting married in St. Augustine’s, her family’s church. Although her fiancé, Ben (John Krasinski), prefers getting married in the tropics, he gives in, never dreaming of the nightmares that lie ahead.

When they first encounter Father Frank, teaching a group of pre-adolescents, he seems like a pretty cool guy, one of those hip clerics who stays up with the times, leavening his message with humor rather than fire-and-brimstone pomposity.

He teaches the ten commandments like the host of a game show, joking and improvising on the gospels – in classic Robin Williams form – “Be chill, don’t kill.”

But the cleric’s antics belie the vicious and brutal character of his course, which takes the two lovers through exercises designed to provoke conflict and emphasize incompatibility.

For Ben, a guy’s guy who seldom reflects on anything except the bathroom mirror when shaving, this series of exercises designed to open up the couple is about to close them down. Aggravating the situation is Father Frank's precocious alter-boy – a pint-sized bad-cop to the priest’s good-cop, who makes sure that everyone adheres to the rules.

There’s ample squirm and cringe humor, as when Ben goes through group therapy with the in-laws, exchanging opportunities to share the one word that best describes each participant. Suffice it to say, one honest description begets another.

A parenting drill takes the couple through the maternity ward, introducing them to the pleasures of going through labor and ends with the reward of twin robotic one-year-olds to take home.

These amazing human replicas come complete with loud voices, set to go off in public places and an ample supply of body fluids and waste materials – all of the inconveniences with none of the cooing love.

From the very opening of the movie, Ben’s misery, of which he receives an ample dose, is our good fortune with the comedy spread evenly and generously throughout.

While “License to Wed” includes Robin Williams, it's a not a Robin Williams movie. Unlike so many comedies in which he appears, the laughs do not diminish, nor is the energy compromised when he leaves the screen. In fact, Williams' multiple voice and rubber face bits seem to lack a bit of their usual spark.

But even less than his best is still good for this veteran, who makes a significant contribution to a decent comedy.

Grade: C+

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com.

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