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Constipating the Marriage 

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To remind viewers of its gilded past, Warner Bros. Studios has taken to introducing all its movies, including its newest romantic comedy, "License to Wed," to the tune of "As Time Goes By" from "Casablanca." I may be alone in this sentiment, but jumping from memories of Bogey and Ingrid Bergman to a shot of Robin Williams grinning in a clerical collar struck me as particularly deflating.

Warner Bros.' latest halfhearted misstep follows two attractive 20-somethings, Ben (John Krasinski, from NBC's "The Office") and Sadie (Mandy Moore), who meet, fall in love and get engaged during the film's breezy, amusing opening montage sequence. All's well until Sadie decides they need to take a marriage-preparation course taught by her priest, the Rev. Frank (Williams) -- because love apparently isn't enough anymore to make a marriage work; now you need three weeks of connubial advice from a priest with an affinity for Popeye impressions.

It goes without saying that this will be no everyday marriage class, not with a hyperactive Williams setting the curriculum. Using surveillance microphones, forced celibacy and elaborate trust exercises, he sets about ruining a perfectly good relationship in the name of saving it, which seems to me a misguided, not to mention mean-spirited, premise for a story. Luckily the movie focuses on Krasinski, who makes the most out of a thankless role and a by-the-numbers script that revolves mainly around his getting hit in the crotch and suffering undeserved public humiliation.

Outnumbered and out of his depth, Krasinski gives Ben some dignity in his feeble struggle against the forces mounting against him — his in-laws, the reverend, his sudden involuntary chastity — by using the same self-defense weapon he's mastered as the ineffectual and lovelorn Jim on "The Office": the ironic comic aside. But unlike "The Office" (which works in a faux-documentary format that guarantees such backhanded swipes at redemption will at least be heard by somebody, granting them a certain small power and nobility before they trail away into the ether), Ben's asides are a great howl of desperation let loose in a soundproof room. It's the last cry of the marrying American male, emasculated and holding a baby carrier but undefeated in his own eyes, as long as his wit doesn't abandon him. Too bad wit abandoned this movie a long time ago. (PG-13) 91 min. S

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