Vow, The (United States, 2012)

February 09, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Vow, The Poster

The only reason any male could have for seeing The Vow is the hope of getting laid afterwards. The only reason any female could have for seeing The Vow is if she views the plots of Harlequin romance novels as the height of modern storytelling. This film, with its would-be crowd-pleasing contrivances and rote adherence to formula, offers almost no redeeming characteristics. From beginning to end, it is steeped in artifice, without a genuine emotion or interaction to be found. This is for young women what Transformers is for young men. Both are equally offensive to lovers of good cinema.

The movie opens with the ultimate cheat of bad films: claiming to have been "inspired by true events." Whenever a filmmaker feels obliged to pull out the old "based on a true story" caption, it's important to examine the wording. The Vow uses the weakest and most ambiguous phraseology: somewhere, something vaguely like this kind-of, sort-of happened to someone. One could arguably make a similar claim about Clash of the Titans, although I'm not too sure of the flying mechanical owl. Jurassic Park might be stretching it a bit - get back to me in a few years.

As The Vow opens, Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) are driving home on the snow-covered streets of Chicago. When they stop at an intersection, Paige unwisely removes her seatbelt and hints that a little hanky-panky in the car might result in a pregnancy. That's when they're rear-ended (no pun intended) by a truck. Both end up in the hospital - Leo in a neck brace and Paige suffering from a traumatic brain injury. She eventually recovers but has lost five years of memory, including all her experiences with her husband. Luckily, Mom (Jessica Lange) and Dad (Sam Neill) are on hand to provide succor - and she remembers them, although not the reason they haven't previously met Leo. Rather than seeing his wife's amnesia as a "get out of jail free" card to start a new life, Leo decides to hang around and fight for her.

The #1 rule of romances, whether they're comedies or dramas or something in between, is that the audience must fall for the characters as hard as they fall for each other. Filmmakers who succeed in making that happen can top off their stories with all manner of cheese without fear of losing the viewers. Unfortunately, director Michael Sucsy, making his feature debut, doesn't exhibit that quality. Despite an extended flashback intended to invest us in Paige and Leo's relationship, I never saw these two as anything more than actors reciting (bad) dialogue while trying desperately to convince us they feel something for one another. The distance between them is palpable. Making things worse, although there is no evidence of a spark between Tatum and McAdams, there's evidence of genuine chemistry between Tatum and the actress playing his assistant (Tatiana Maslany) - enough, in fact, that we wish Leo would forget about Paige and turn his attention to the woman who keeps his business afloat while he woos back his wife.

Once in a while, The Vow strays frustratingly close to the single truly intriguing idea evident in the premise: the relationship between identity and memory. However, perhaps concerned that an incursion into anything substantive might be too deep for the target audience, the filmmakers stay shallow. Critics are expected to review the movie they get, not the one they might wish for, which is fair. Keeping that in mind, I can assert that The Vow is a juvenile and unsatisfying jumble of romantic clich├ęs and contrivances that marches forward in a wearily predictable pattern. You know the ending before you see the beginning. You know the ending just by looking at the poster. You know the ending just by hearing that Rachel McAdams is in it.

McAdams has become typecast the way Meg Ryan was typecast in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, where Ryan was the Romantic Comedy Queen, McAdams has become synonymous with Movies That Could Have Been Written By Nicholas Sparks. (Based on the credits of The Vow, Sparks was not involved.) Channing Tatum is a likeable sort, but he was obviously chosen more based on looks and physique than on his acting ability. And he does Taylor Lautner one better - not only does he show off his bare chest, but he provides the camera with an uncensored view of his buttocks. The PG-13 rating prevents him from pulling a Michael Fassbender. What a shame.

The supporting cast includes veteran actors Sam Neill and Jessica Lange. This may represent a career nadir for both of them and, yes, I remember that Lange made her debut in King Kong. Consider what it means when I state that her performance opposite a giant ape was superior to her efforts here. Neill has also played opposite oversized creatures, although in neither of his Jurassic Park adventures did he have to wrestle with the kind of dialogue he's forced to utter during The Vow. Watching Neill in this movie, I felt the same surge of sympathetic embarrassment I suffered while watching Laurence Olivier in The Betsy.

Movies like The Vow give me indigestion. They are hard to swallow and harder still to keep down without medication. The lack of chemistry between the leads and the artificiality of the screenplay preclude engagement with anything happening on screen. Those who like romances because of the surety of a happy ending and the attractiveness of the leads may find something salvageable in The Vow, which is probably no worse than much of the tripe targeted at Valentine's Day crowds. For a motion picture supposedly about the triumph of true love, this is a heartless, soulless product.

Vow, The (United States, 2012)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2012-02-10
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content, Nudity, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1