The Vow is like a Nicholas Sparks novel with a dash of wit, a hint of edge, and a smidgen less sap. It's a romance in The Notebook tradition -- "inspired by true events" and scripted by committee. But as such concoctions go, it's not half bad.
Not that there aren't bad, insipid things about it. Start with the narration, and the narrator, Leo, played by Channing Tatum with as much lovesick charm as he can muster. Leo blathers on about "moments of impact" that "turn our lives upside down" and "define who we are." The movie he introduces with that assertion doesn't have much to do with "moments," though. It just sounded good. Well, maybe coming out of someone else's mouth.
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Leo's remembering the all-consuming love he shared with Paige, played by the always winsome Rachel McAdams. Leo has to remember, because Paige, as we learn 15 minutes into the film, has lost her memory in a snowy car accident. Not all of it -- just the last five years, her years with Leo.
Gone are recollections of the day they met, their courtship, and sexy-hipster wedding in an art museum, where Leo vowed to fiercely love her, and she vowed "to live within the warmth of your heart."
She wakes up and can't remember any of that. Or that she quit law school, abandoned her sorority girl / Lake Forest friends and her Lake Forest parents, played with a possessive malevolence by Jessica Lange and Sam Neill.
Paige has lost her taste for vegetarian foods and her talent for sculpting. Leo resolves to help her remember, and to find a way back into her heart. If only she'll let him. It only that "old life" she does remember weren't so affluent and attractive.
Michael Sucsy, who did the fine TV movie Grey Gardens, keeps the sap at bay and the touch light as these two find things to laugh at in their predicament.
"I married him," Paige tells her snooty family. "It must have been for some reason."
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There are "forget-me-not" jokes, forgotten computer passwords and forgotten grudges. And McAdams, who has a gift for making us believe in even her most far-fetched romances (The Time Traveler's Wife), reacts with genuine relief and surprise any time someone can fill in the blanks of her lost years -- even the lady behind the counter at what used to be her favorite deli.
"You want your usual?"
"I have a usual?"
Tatum, like McAdams a veteran of the Sparks brand of screen romance, gamely goes for the laughs -- "Can I at least give you an awkward hug?"
But even though we can kind of see them together -- she bubbles, he's still something of a stiff -- the heavy lifting here falls on Tatum, playing a guy who knows what they had and is desperate to get it back. He's simply not up to it. He can play funny, and he can summon up charm. Here he's as bland as the cast of "friends" the film surrounds the couple with.
He will star in other romances, but Tatum should vow to never take on another one that requires him to narrate the story until he can do that without sounding like he's reading it.
Directed by Michael Sucsy. Written by Jason Katims, based on a Stuart Sender story. A Screen Gems release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG-13 for an accident scene, sexual content, partial nudity, and some language. Running time: 104 minutes.
Critic's rating: ***
Paige ........... Rachel McAdams
Leo ........... Channing Tatum
Rita ........... Jessica Lange