We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 6 Sep 6:25PM
Robin Williams plays an over-attentive and offbeat priest who puts engaged couple Mandy Moore and John Krasinski through a 'marriage preparation' course in this blandly inoffensive comedy misfire
Ever since his movie career kicked into gear with his Oscar-nominated turn in 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, stand-up-turned-actor Robin Williams has made some wildly erratic choices. One minute, he'll be pushing himself with demanding roles (Good Will Hunting, Insomnia, One Hour Photo). The next he'll be indulging in saccharine overload (Patch Adams, Jack) or propping up bland comedies that don't deserve him. (RV, Father's Day; the list goes on).
Williams is an actor with a screen presence that veers between entertaining and smug. License To Wed ends up a curiously forgettable experience that never even generates enough interest to be memorably bad.
It's the story of Ben (Krasinski, from the US version of 'The Office') and Sadie (teen star Moore), an engaged couple who can't wait to get married and begin their lives together. However, thanks to Sadie insisting on the ceremony happening at their local church, there's one very big problem in the form of Reverend Frank (Williams), the church's pastor.
A self-consciously hip man of God with a bizarre attitude to his parishioners, Reverend Frank insists that all couples who get married at his church must complete his 'marriage preparation course' - a series of tasks and lessons designed to see if they're really made for each other. If the couples don't pass, Reverend Frank has the right to call off the wedding - and with only three weeks before the big event, Ben is soon battling to get through the increasingly bizarre tests, and trying to hold his relationship together in the process.
With a prospective married couple, much family-related embarrassment and a wild-card authority figure determined to make life difficult, License To Wed wants to fit into the same comedy-of-embarrassment genre as Meet The Parents. Without a decent script, however, it doesn't even get close. Most of the screenplay's observations on relationships are just massively trite.
All the story does is jump through eminently predictable hoops while relying too heavily on Williams' usual improv shtick to generate most of the gags. Admittedly, there are a couple of good examples of his traditional rapid-fire humour, but there are also some woeful sequences that stretch way beyond breaking point - particularly when Reverend Frank attempts to 'heal' an injured Ben after pelting him with a baseball, and then starts ranting like an escapee from The Exorcist.
Williams doesn't succeed in making Reverend Frank's 'hilarious' escapades seem like forgivable japes. As he places listening devices in Ben and Sadie's apartment, makes them look after grotesque animatronic babies or quizzes Sadie in worrying detail about her sex life, the film obviously wants this to be charming, madcap behaviour, but instead it comes across as slightly creepy. Indeed, there's a sinister edge to the story that the filmmakers seem desperate to avoid, and despite the genial sitcom atmosphere, it's almost as if they started making a black comedy in the style of The Cable Guy and then changed their minds halfway through.
As it turns out, all Reverend Frank's outrageous behaviour is in the best interests of Ben and Sadie, and events work up to an eminently predictable outcome for everyone. What it doesn't make up for is the paper-thin characterisation, the annoying Burt Bacharach-style soundtrack and a criminal shortage of laughs which even the lengthy out-take montage over the end credits does little to counter.
Decent performances might have saved the film, or at least added more interest, but there's little in License To Wed to make it stand out from any recent lightweight Hollywood romantic comedy.
Moore and Krasinski generate zero sparks as a couple, while Williams tries hard, but only manages a sharp reminder of the better and funnier comedies he's made in the past. There's a brief, highly enjoyable turn from Christine Taylor as Moore's spiky older sister. It's just a pity her character seems like she's wandered in from a different - and much funnier - movie entirely.
License To Wed never escapes the combined trap of terminal blandness and a severe lack of decent jokes.
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