Williams’ wedded mess

Times Staff Writer

Robin Williams’ career appears to have come full circle. As a breakout comedy star 30 years ago, he and his uniquely mercurial talent were a tough fit for filmmakers looking for appropriate projects. Now, in his mid-50s, the actor is once again being miscast on a regular basis.

Following last year’s “RV,” in which he attempted to button down and channel Chevy Chase, comes the tedious “License to Wed,” an uninspired comedy starring Mandy Moore and John Krasinski as a newly engaged couple forced to endure the premarital course taught by Williams’ overbearing Rev. Frank in order to be married in his church.

Life lessons give way to a series of matrimonial survival tests seemingly designed by the Bush administration and theoretically geared for laughs.

Directed by Ken Kwapis with a screenplay credited to Kim Barker, Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio from a story by Barker and Wayne Lloyd, the movie is a pastiche of tortured slapstick, groan-inducing dialogue and a lethal dose of treacle, apparently awaiting one of Williams’ trademark sprees of riffing and vamping to save the day.


That moment never comes, however. Spouting one-liners such as “Let’s get the flock out of here,” Williams churns through the movie in second gear.

Even at reduced speed, Williams is Henny Youngman on amphetamines, a spiritual carny hawking abstinence and honesty to the young couple.

Inexplicably passive-aggressive, the Rev. Frank underhandedly provokes the couple into confrontations, bullying the laid-back Ben (Krasinski) and pushing the buttons of control freak Sadie (Moore).

Considering that over-the-line surveillance, manipulation and humiliation are Frank’s main tools in prepping the duo for their nuptials, the minister’s popularity with his congregation is a little hard to swallow.

Much of the creepiness that Williams perfected in dramatic turns in films such as “Insomnia” and “One Hour Photo” unfortunately persists here, sending Rev. Frank’s icky factor off the charts. He doesn’t so much look at Sadie as leer at her and, intentional or not, Frank suggests some of the less-flattering clerical stereotypes.

That impression isn’t helped by the ever-presence of an underage sidekick (a demonic Josh Flitter), part of a Ministers of Tomorrow program, who would appear to be even more sadistic than his mentor.

With Williams’ appearances in recent hits such as “Night at the Museum” and “Happy Feet” and his willingness to take risks in supporting roles, he’s in no danger of being out of work, but you’d hope he’d pick better material than this.

Moore and Krasinski fare only slightly better with their stock characters. Type-A personality Sadie frets over inane wedding details with her metrosexual best friend Carlisle (Eric Christian Olsen) and her freshly divorced (and bitter) sister, Lindsey (Christine Taylor), only realizing how dull Ben actually is when they begin to fight. Given the material, Moore is lucky to register two basic expressions, love struck and petulant.

Charitably dismissed by his future father-in-law (Peter Strauss) as “affable,” Ben primarily serves as a veritable punching bag, the butt of most of the film’s gags.

Krasinski, who shows much sharper comedic chops on the TV series “The Office,” comes across as a blander version of Ryan Reynolds.

“License to Wed.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual humor and language. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. In general release.