License to Wed

Starring John Krasinski, Mandy Moore, and Robin Williams. Rated PG. Opens Friday, July 6, at the Cinemark Tinseltown

The comic premise that's intended to propel the mean-spirited License to Wed revolves around a nice young couple named Sadie and Ben (Mandy Moore and The Office's John Krasinski). For sentimental reasons, they're compelled to take a marriage-preparation course from the wildly passive-aggressive Reverend Frank (Robin Williams, who needs to stop thinking that his increasingly tired shtick can redeem a bad script). The reverend is the kind of joker who isn't afraid to talk a little trash or admit that he's seriously addicted to cheese curls, but when it comes to his marriage-prep course, he's a vaguely creepy control freak.

The reverend is willing to do anything to test the love of Sadie and Ben. On his orders, their apartment is bugged to make sure they're abstaining from sex. Under the benign guise of role-playing games, he pokes and prods until his charges are bickering like a couple who've been unhappy for years. All the while, Frank brags that the couples who pass his sadistic course stay together for life–a promise that, inevitably, begins to resemble some kind of strange prison sentence. It's enough to make anybody squirm.

Director Ken Kwapis (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) nudges his misguided cast through a series of sketch-type situations that fall flat every time. The most bizarrely off-kilter scene? Our couple is assigned to take care of two mechanical baby twins that poo, pee, and wail just like the real thing. The genuinely ugly robot twins are controlled by the reverend's smarmy, preadolescent henchman (Josh Flitter). When Frank's assistant cranks the remote control so the twins go berserk, Ben smashes the head of his fake baby, to the horror of onlookers.

With this kind of material, nobody comes off unscathed. Moore makes the best choice, staying out of the way while looking cute and confused. Krasinski mugs through his role with unfortunate results. As for Williams, he delivers the most excruciatingly unfunny performance in his long and checkered career. Although the artificially happy ending is harmless enough on its own, there's something about the accumulated karma of License to Wed that renders it curiously detestable. This one should never have been made.