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A moment of impact. Channing Tatum, as loving hubby Leo, has many of them – relayed in philosophizing, Hallmark-regurgitated voiceovers – through the course of the emotionally flat, love-conquers-all rom-com “The Vow.”
Some are in the casual exchanges between friends, or serenading his girlfriend Paige (Rachel McAdams, as endearing as always) with a Meatloaf song on a snowy night, or marrying her and then, not long after, losing her mentally to amnesia in a tragic car wreck. That’s how “The Vow” begins – with a moment of impact (get it?). And then they’re gone, resulting in a remarkably unsentimental but exhaustingly blank movie about memory that’s not very memorable at all.
With McAdams, milking her girl-next-door success from “The Notebook,” the true-story-inspired Valentine’s Day cash-grab had a real shot at being a resonant romance that’s not some self-aware bit of superficiality. But no, it blows that chance shortly after the startling, right-footed setup, as Paige crashes headfirst through the windshield in slo-mo. I cried just once: after waking up from a coma, she sees Leo and thinks he’s the doctor. The trauma for her is remembering who she and the people around her are; for him, it’s reclaiming his wife and proving that their love is real.
But first he must fight off the egocentric parents and a desperate old flame who use her cognitive challenges to their advantage: Mom and Dad (Jessica Lange and Sam Neill, both barely registering) aren’t interested in helping her rediscover who she is but who they want her to be (lawyer instead of artist), and the dumped boyfriend thinks amnesia means another shot for him. Both subplots are so ridiculous in their soap-opera sensibility.
Then there are the obvious genre platitudes: the wedding brawl between boys and Tatum’s sad guitar ditty before the predictable, though thankfully not-so melodramatic, ending. Also bothersome: awkward humor that feels unnatural in a real-life amnesia drama, stilted gag-me dialogue (“How do you look at the girl you love and tell yourself it’s time to walk away?”) and filmmakers’ incessant beating on moviegoers should they, too, forget what’s right in front of them. Cafe Mnemonic? Ha-ha. Good one.
And perhaps they underestimated the gay appeal of “The Vow” when they used this Robyn song: “Get Myself Together” is blaring overhead during a bar scene, as post-hospital Paige meets some girlfriends for drinks. “Just can’t make sense of the bits/It’s like my mind is gone.” How meta.
“The Vow” is an empty promise that asks you to feel something but doesn’t give you any reason to. Kudos to Tatum and McAdams for defying the odds against them and at least having an easy rapport that translates in their intimate one-on-ones. For every cringe-worthy moment of insight from Leo, there’s an undeniably adorable off-setter like an after-dinner chocolate binge. And Tatum getting in naked practice for his upcoming stripper movie. But when one of the only redeemers is seeing Tatum’s bare butt, you have to ask yourself: Is that worth $10?