Amnesia, long a staple plot device of soap operas and Movie of the Week weepers, gets a slightly updated spin in this achingly earnest, well-intentioned, though somewhat mawkish Valentine's Day card.
Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams are such photogenic, wholesome, all-American cutie pies that they look like the little people on the top of the cake; and they shimmer on screen together as newly wed couple Leo and Paige.
Everything is snuggles and rainbows for these two Chicago lovebirds, until they get rear-ended by a garbage truck on a snowy night and she goes flying through the windshield. He walks away with scrapes; she awakens a few days later with no memory of her new husband, or any details from the last five years of her life. Try as she might she just can't recall that she dropped out of law school, became a sculptor, dyed her hair chestnut brown, or became vegetarian. Worse, she now has a total stranger doting over her bedside, telling her she's his wife, and all but professing his undying love, when all she really can remember is being engaged to a handsome yuppie scumbag named Jeremy (Scott Speedman). This same formula would make for a nifty little thriller, if The Vow wasn't based on a real-life incident, and committed to jerking tears and not jolting you out of your seat.
The profoundly mediocre screenplay was factory-farmed and you can feel the various conflicting drafts grinding up against one another. Vigorous attempts are made to add specific cutesy flavors to a very tapioca romance; they disagree about red velvet cake, she turns the stereo up way too loud, he asks her to move in by spelling it out in blueberries on her breakfast plate. Her favorite book is The Beach House by James Patterson (which would be a deal-breaker for me). The strain becomes unbearable when we learn that their favorite coffee shop is called Café Mnemonic. Get it?
Tatum and McAdams — G.I. Joe and Barbie-like as they are — make for a fairly convincing match; though are they plausible as Wicker Park hipsters? Not so much. She's an artist, and he owns a recording studio; as Leo rambles on about the soulfulness of Scotty Moore's guitar picking on "Mystery Train," you can almost hear the screenwriters begging for street cred.
Still as clumsy as the script — and the direction — can be, The Vow is inherently watchable, so it rises above its sunset-soaked rom-com brethren. Tatum sports a lunkheaded boyish appeal — and McAdams? Well, she just lights up the screen, even when her character is flighty and confused. Real-life origins aside, we're sold fantasy here, of love undying no matter the odds, and that kind of shit requires commitment.