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Leave ‘License to Wed’ at the altar

Robin Williams’ creepy character marks another miss for the comedian. By John Hartl
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Robin Williams can be wonderfully creepy when he’s playing crazies like the obsessed photo developer in the 2002 thriller, “One Hour Photo.”

But try to blend that creepiness with comedy and the result can be pretty weird. Case in point: “License to Wed,” in which he plays nutty/spooky Reverend Frank, who runs his church, St. Augustine’s, like a mixture of boot camp and a television contest.

The Ten Commandments are reduced to cute quiz show slogans (“Covet? Don’t Love It”). Wiretapping is used to make certain that engaged couples aren’t having sex.

“Good marriages are my business,” says Reverend Frank. His proudest achievement is the Marriage Preparation Course, which uses group therapy to reduce committed couples to screaming at each other.

“Can I be frank?” he smugly asks. “Of course — I am Frank.” He’s got a million one-liners like that.

Testing couples before they wed is all for the best, the reverend keeps insisting, because he has a 100 percent success rate. Anyone who survives his course will have weathered the worst that marriage has to offer.

Reverend Frank is clearly comfortable with authority. We see pictures of him posing with the Pope, the Clintons, President Bush, all suggesting approval of his marriage-prep test. So why shouldn’t a couple headed for the altar take time out for his three-week cram course?

Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore), having recently accepted a marriage proposal from boyfriend Ben Murphy (John Krasinski), can’t resist pressures to sign up with Reverend Frank. St. Augustine’s is her family church, she wants to be married there, and she gets a cautious Ben to agree to the test. Soon, of course, they’re at each other’s throats.

The casually sadistic Reverend Frank would be a tough part for any comic — the eavesdropping scenes alone are a near-impossible challenge — but Williams is almost nimble enough to pull it off. His fans may adore the movie, especially the reverend’s curious relationship with a Mini-Me assistant (Josh Flitter), which reaches its peak with a sendup of “The Exorcist.” Williams detractors will see another mismatch between actor and role.

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Ben turns out to be the more interesting role. Krasinski has a knack for slapstick that clicks here. He’s a veteran of “The Office,” as is the director, Ken Kwapis, and they get a surprising number of laughs out of the scenes in which Ben is forced to deal with faked fatherhood. Saddled with twin robot babies that lose control in a very public way, he’s quickly overwhelmed.

Described rather condescendingly as “affable” by Sadie’s father, Ben reveals a darker side when he sets out to expose Reverend Frank as a hypocrite. Silly, shallow Sadie, who never seems a good match for Ben, also turns out to have an ugly temper. Her family is equally boorish and nasty.

Ben at least tries to extricate them from a sticky situation. This would ordinarily make him the hero, but Kapis and his stable of writers feel the need to exonerate Reverend Frank. And that just leaves you feeling creeped out.