License to Wed

“License to Wed” is one of the year’s worst comedies, and in a year that has already contained “Norbit” and “Wild Hogs,” that’s saying something. How bad is it? Well, Robin Williams is in it — and he’s not even the worst thing about it.

(If that last sentence didn’t make sense to you because you think Robin Williams is usually pretty hilarious, then stop reading this review at once and rush out and see “License to Wed.”)

It has a plot full of contrivances, by which I mean nothing happens as the natural outgrowth of the characters’ personalities or their situation. Everything happens only because the screenwriters NEEDED it to happen. Watch how the details fall into place: Boring guy Ben (John Krasinski) and go-getter Sadie (Mandy Moore) want to get married. She insists the ceremony take place in her family’s traditional church, St. Augustine’s. But Father Frank (Robin Williams) won’t let them get married in his chapel unless they pass his ridiculous “marriage preparation” course. Oh! And the only available date on the church’s schedule is just three weeks from now! So they have to hurry! Can’t you just see the hilarity piling up!?

Father Frank is portrayed as a fun, “hip” pastor. You can tell because when he meets Ben, he asks, “So what do you do? Besides little Sadie here.” When he and Ben go into the church’s gymnasium for a little one-on-one, he notices a deflated basketball and says, “This ball needs Viagra.” See how wacky Father Frank is?!

Frank’s marriage prep course mostly involves doing everything he can to drive a wedge between Ben and Sadie. There are inane “role reversal” games that don’t teach anyone anything, and there are numerous attempts to make Ben feel uncomfortable around Sadie’s wealthy family. If Father Frank weren’t celibate, you’d think he was trying to horn in on Sadie himself. He even plants a microphone in Ben and Sadie’s bedroom so he’ll know if they’ve violated his no-sex-before-the-wedding rule, then sits outside the building in a van like an FBI agent listening to a mobster’s wiretap.

One of Frank’s tactics is to give Ben and Sadie a pair of fake babies to practice taking care of for a couple days to prepare them for parenthood. Rather than give them dolls or eggs or sacks of flour, though, Frank gives them two creepy robotic babies that move, cry, and urinate realistically. Why the elaborate, expensive, state-of-the-art technology just for a simple parenthood lesson? Because dolls and eggs and sacks of flour can’t “pee” into Ben’s hapless face on cue, I assume, and where would the movie be without that priceless gem of a joke? Goodness knows we’ve never seen movie babies pee like geysers while having their diapers changed before! Why, off the top of my head, I can only think of … let’s see … 500,000 other movies in which that has occurred.

It’s one of those movies where a main character is clearly a nuisance and an idiot, yet only the audience and one character recognize it. Frank is the nuisance; Ben is the lone recognizer. Everyone else, including Sadie, thinks Frank is helpful and good-hearted and godly. They go along with his marriage-prep course even though his tactics — like having Sadie drive blindfolded while following Ben’s instructions, to see how well they “trust each other” — are blatantly pointless and stupid. Frank is explaining how the driving thing will work, and Ben is sputtering with disbelief while Sadie is furrowing her cute little brow and nodding, as if Father Frank has said something profoundly thoughtful.

As luck would have it, Ben finds the microphone planted in the bedroom. Ah-HA! we think. The jig is up now, Father Frank! Ben will expose you and everyone will know what a spiteful lunatic you are! And then Ben … doesn’t do anything about it. He tells his friend, Joel (DeRay Davis), who convinces him to let it go. Why, movie? Why use the bug if it’s not going to influence the plot? And why let Ben discover it if he’s not going to do anything about it? What purpose does the microphone serve?

Instead of using Frank’s spying against him, Joel and Ben elect to dig into Frank’s past to find dirt on him, bring him down, and put an end to this farce of a marriage course. It’s mentioned that they must hurry, because the wedding’s in only two days. But if the wedding is in two days, why bother looking for ways to get out of Frank’s marriage class? Just endure the next 48 hours and it will all be over.

(Joel, by the way, fulfills not one but two of the character types required by all bad comedies. He is both the Married Friend Who Warns the Protagonist About How Much Married Life Sucks, and also the Smart-Mouthed Black Guy. If only he were elderly! Then he could have been the Foul-Mouthed Old Person, too, or perhaps the Farting Grandfather. Alas.)

Speaking, parenthetically, of farts, I should point out that the movie is stupid and unfunny in ways unrelated to the marriage-prep course, too. Ben orders a wedding ring for Sadie and has it inscribed “NEVER TO PART.” But the jewelers mistake his “P” for an “F” and inscribe “NEVER TO FART.” When Ben points out the obvious error, they show him the order form he filled out, where evidently his “P” looks like an “F.” They refuse to change it without charging an outrageous fee, insisting they were just following his instructions. But surely a real jeweler would go over a man’s order form with him before getting to work on it, to make sure he has indicated the right size, style, gemstones, inscription, and so on. And surely if they failed to do that, they would recognize this particular mistake was theirs, not the customer’s, and that no reasonable person, jeweler or otherwise, would have thought he actually wanted the word “FART” inscribed on his wife’s wedding ring.

The film was directed by Ken Kwapis, a veteran of excellent TV shows such as “The Office” (which explains the presence of several of Krasinski’s “Office”-mates in cameo roles), “Malcolm in the Middle,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” and “Freaks and Geeks.” How can a man so well-acquainted with the makings of outstanding comedy create a movie as desperately dim-witted as this one?

I suspect the blame lies in the screenplay, credited to Kim Barker, Tim Rasmussen, and Vince Di Meglio. None of the three has ever written a feature-length comedy before. Watching what they wrote for “License to Wed,” I’m not sure they’ve ever even seen a feature-length comedy before, at least not any good ones. This is embarrassing stuff, the kind of thing a sensible movie-studio executive would read about 10 pages of before ordering his assistant to send it back to the high school student who presumably wrote it.

Where Kwapis made the right choice (after making the wrong choice to direct the film) was in keeping Williams on a tight leash. The once and future Mork doesn’t do much of his characteristic fast-talking, stream-of-consciousness shtick. He sticks pretty close to the script — which, while badly written, at least doesn’t call for a rubber-faced improviser to do a manic series of “funny” voices while spouting decade-old pop-cultural references. (I’ll bet you $1,000 the Viagra line I quoted earlier was Williams’ contribution, though.)

If there is a silver lining to it all, it’s that John Krasinski, a beloved and talented actor from TV’s “The Office,” can now say he has starred in a major motion picture. The door is open for him to do other, better films. I hope he will do it soon, if only to wash away all memories of this tedious and aggravating disaster.

F (1 hr., 31 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, some vulgarity and mild sexual dialogue.)