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Forgive and Forget

MOVIE REVIEW
The Vow (2012)

The-vow-rachel-mcadams-channing-tatum
Kerry Hayes/Screen Gems

Disclaimer: Nicholas Sparks had nothing to do with the production of this film. Such a warning is necessary before examining “The Vow,” because all of the movie’s marketing begs potential viewers to believe they are about to see some second coming of “The Notebook.” This type of ploy may result in financial success in the coming weeks: Valentine’s Day is close by; and the two leads — Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum — have previously succeeded in Nicholas Sparks adaptations. But, herein lies the most crucial problem with “The Vow”: The obligation to a specific target audience steers the plot into chick-flick territory that has been mechanically repeated into monotony.

The original concept is intriguing and worth exploration: What if you woke up one day and lost all memory of your spouse? All of the threads in a couple’s DNA: first date, first kiss, favorite restaurants — all of the important moments — are erased. This is the problem newlyweds Leo (Mr. Tatum) and Paige (Ms. McAdams) must face after a horrific car accident sends them both to the hospital. Leo endures minor injuries, but Paige suffers severe memory loss and has no recollection of ever meeting her husband. Leo’s quest — a mission that inspires him for the rest of the film — is to make Paige fall back in love with him until she can regain her memory.

However, complications arise when Paige tells Leo her last memory is being engaged to an ex-fiancé (Scott Speedman), who may still have feelings for her. Pre-accident Paige is an eclectic sculptor, a vegetarian and a romantic. Post-accident Paige is more like an elitist Stepford-wife-in-training. Throw in some manipulative, upper-crust parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) who want to take Paige away from Leo, and there are more than enough roadblocks to fill up the 104-minute running time.

Before heading into theaters, ticket buyers should know this film is not “The Notebook.” Nor is it “(500) Days of Summer” or even the recently released “Like Crazy.” All three of those films avoided the trite pitfalls of romantic cinema by creating fleshed-out characters with palpable relationships. They also focused on a connection between two people to create tension instead of relying on cheap villains (i.e. preppy ex-fiancé and preppy parents).

Rather than searching for fresh ground, “The Vow” seems to easily accept the stock characters and melodrama that come with mediocrity. Most of the blame here falls on the film’s three writers, Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Jason Katims. The writers give the film a disjointed voice and never let any of the secondary characters develop. The supporting actors are only included as safety nets to make it easier for audiences to sympathize with Leo.

Director Michael Sucsy tries to implement some artsy shots and techniques to create some emotional tone, but each of his attempts fails badly. For example, the opening car-crash sequence is done in very exaggerated slow motion, even the part where Paige crashes through the windshield and falls on the hood of the car. The whole scene is rather bizarre and evokes the image of a car safety commercial instead of romantic tragedy.

All of the film’s negative elements are so disappointing, because Ms. McAdams and Mr. Tatum are quite good together. Ms. McAdams thrives when she can be cutesy and vulnerable simultaneously. She turned Paige into a nuanced character whose innocence can change into frustration at any moment. And Mr. Tatum was confident and subtle. It is easy to empathize with his character, and the film is most effective when Leo and Paige try to work together to fix their relationship. If these one-on-one scenes were given more importance, “The Vow” could have been a thoughtful investigation into how people change and how these changes affect romantic relationships. But all audiences will get is a familiar chick flick dressed underneath an unusual story line.

THE VOW

Opened on Feb. 10 in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Directed by Michael Sucsy; written by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Jason Katims, based on a story by Stuart Sender; director of photography, Rogier Stoffers; edited by Nancy Richardson and Melissa Kent; music by Rachel Portman and Michael Brook; production design by Kalina Ivanov; costumes by Alex Kavanagh; produced by Jonathan Glickman, Paul Taublieb, Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum; released by Screen Gems. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Rachel McAdams (Paige), Channing Tatum (Leo), Sam Neill (Bill Thornton), Scott Speedman (Jeremy), Wendy Crewson (Dr. Fishman) and Jessica Lange (Rita Thornton).

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