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Vow, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Who's That Girl?"
1 stars

The other night, I was supposed to be seeing the new Denzel Washington-Ryan Reynolds thriller "Safe House" until unforeseen technical complications--apparently the theater was having trouble getting the digital program containing the film to boot up--caused an excessive delay. Finally, after more than 30 minutes had passed since the announced start time and with no suggestion that things were going to change anytime soon, I decided that the line between "audience member" and "hostage" was dwindling rapid and I decided to take my leave--besides, if Scarlett Johansson no longer finds waiting 30 minutes to see Ryan Reynolds to be a valuable usage of her time, why should I? Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't even bother relating this story, other than as a way of explaining why no review of that particular film is forthcoming at this particular time, except that the very next night, I wound up seeing the new romantic melodrama "The Vow" and if ever there was a film where one might hope and pray for an insurmountable projection problem that would allow one to slink away from the proceedings without running the risk of wondering whether they were missing out on something good, this is that film. This is a film that offers viewers the experience of seeing a putatively serious story that is so utterly, flabbergastingly in every way, shape and form that it feels like the kind of thing that one might ordinarily encounter in a lazy Adam Sandler comedy. As a matter of fact, the basic premise is one ripped more or less directly from an Adam Sandler comedy and that particular vehicle made better use of it, though I must admit that "The Vow" does inspire more laughs, almost all of the inadvertent variety.

To be fair, the film starts off with a number of things that I enjoy quite a bit. For example, it kicks off outside of Chicago's venerable Music Box Theater, a old-fashioned movie palace that I believe to be the finest place that I have ever seen films in my lifetime and where I have been privileged to view many of the greatest works that the cinema has to offer on the big screen where they belong. The scene takes place during winter and while I must admit that I have never been much of a snow person, I have always preferred winters in the city to the summers (except for the lack of Cubs games)--I like the cold, there is usually a refreshing snap in the air and guys wearing shorts are practically non-existent. On the soundtrack, we hear the immortal strains of Meat Loaf's "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" and what can I say, I have always been a fan of Mr. Loaf and the over-the-top mini-operas that allow him to demonstrate his tremendous breath control while allowing lyricist Jim Steinman to plumb his presumably well-thumbed thesaurus to new heights or depths, depending on your point-of-view. Finally, inside the car driving through the snowy streets to the strains of Loaf, there is the considerable sight of Rachel McAdams spontaneously offering up the possibility of car sex. All of these things are deployed within the first couple of minutes and as a catalogue of personal fetishes, it was humming along quite nicely for me. Alas, like all good things, this all comes to an abrupt end when the car is rammed from behind by a snowplow and she goes flying through the windshield in what feels like one of the most absurd PSA's advising people to buckle up ever produced. Note #1: If your first thought after seeing this scene is along the lines that perhaps a more appropriate Meat Loaf song might have been "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," you are probably not the ideal audience for this movie. Note #2: If your first thought after seeing this scene is along the lines of wonderment that there would be a plow taking care to promptly plow side streets even while the snow is still falling, you are probably not the ideal audience for this movie and you are clearly from Chicago.

Rising young artist Paige (McAdams), who has recently won the theoretically plum commission of creating some sculptures for the Tribune Tower lobby, survives the crash and while she manages to go through the windshield without any visible scratches or scars, she does land in a coma. Her husband, rising young recording studio owner Leo (Channing Tatum) fares much better--the proposed nookie hadn't gotten to the point where he took off his seatbelt (and none of that "World According to Garp" stuff either)--and is there a few weeks later when Paige finally awakens. Alas, in a development that is perhaps as inevitable as it is contrived, Paige has absolutely no idea who Leo is or has any memory of the five years that they have been together. To Paige's rich parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), whom she has been estranged for reasons that she, of course cannot remember, they consider this to be a blessing and immediately plan to take her back to their palatial Lake Forest manor to resume the life she had before she abruptly chucked everything, including studying law and a smarmy fiancee (Scott Speedman, sporting a hairdo so ridiculous that it looks as though he is auditioning for "The Hunger Games") to enroll at the Art Institute and eventually fall in love with Leo. Even though mom and dad are practically emitting fumes of well-heeled evil, Paige seems all in favor of this plan because it means a return to the life that she once knew, even if she can't quite put together what caused her to abandon it in the first place.

Needless to say, Leo, who has never met Paige's family before due to the prior estrangement, is less than thrilled with this notion and finally convinces Paige to come back home with him in the hopes that settling back into her former, if forgotten, routine will help jog her memory. Alas, things start off badly when he brings her home from the hospital to a surprise party filled with people she doesn't recall, an idea so boneheaded as to beggar belief that anyone could have thought that it might have been a good idea. After that initial stumble, Leo and Paige begin the odd process of living together as married strangers and while his efforts to get her to remember their past continue to fall flat, there is still a bit of a spark between them. At the same time, however, Paige begins to slip back into the former life that she remembers with near-total recall, leading to endless scenes of her hobnobbing with old friends and the aforementioned smarmy ex while Leo stands to the side looking forlorn. After dear old dad convinces Paige to move back home and even arranges for her return to studying law at Northwestern, he tries to convince Leo that the only way that he can make his wife truly happy is to divorce her and let her lead the life that she was destined to live. Will Leo bravely give her up even at the cost of his broken heart? Will there be a plethora of shocking revelations that help shed light on why Paige left her family in the first place? Will there be a last-minute reconciliation between our star-crossed lovers? Will the Tribune ever get their sculptures? I could tell you but unless you recently went through a windshield yourself, you can probably answer at least three of those questions right here and now.

Considering that the film tells the ridiculously melodramatic tale of two beautiful young lovers whose perfect romance in threatened by the kind of travails that make the exertions of Romeo and Juliet seem like child's play by comparison (which they were, I suppose, but that is a discussion for another time), I walked into the screening of "The Vow" under the assumption that it was another film based on one of the best-selling novels of Nicholas Sparks, who has made a cottage industry out of such tales. After all, the premise sounds like it came right out of his notebook (if not his "The Notebook") and both Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum have appeared in previous screen adaptations of his work. As it turns out, this is an original screenplay, so to speak, that Sparks had nothing to do with and as a result, I now find myself in the ludicrous position of offering an apology to Nicholas Sparks for impugning on his good name by suggesting that he had any connection to this drivel. That's right--"The Vow" fails to live up to the likes of "The Notebook," "Dear John," "Message in the Bottle" and that thing where Mandy Moore was dying of cancer or shark bite or whatever it was.

Granted, there are enough surface similarities on display to ensure that others may come to the same assumption but as bad as Sparks' stuff is (at least the films inspired by his work--just the thought of attempting to read one of his books is enough to inspire a mild case of catatonia), but his gibberish has a certain singularity of purpose that its target audience does respond to while "The Vow," by comparison, is all over the map. With a story like this, there are two basic approaches that can be utilized--either the story can admit to its inherently ridiculous nature and play things for laughs or it can wholeheartedly embrace its equally inherent soapiness and try to jerk as many tears as possible by whatever means necessary. "The Vow," on the other hand, tries to have it both ways by alternating scenes of an alarmingly sentimental nature with weirdly jokey moments in which the dialogue seems to be deliberately calling attention to its absurdities. The clashing tones never work and the end result is a film that spends half of its time making fun of its self and the other asking viewers to take it seriously. Then again, perhaps the writers threw in all of the stuff goofing on the story as an attempt to distract viewers from the gaping plot holes on display, of which I will only mention one. How is it that a horrible accident involving a good-looking young couple being hit by a city vehicle could have somehow been so completely ignored by the media that neither the parents of the victim nor the major metropolitan newspaper that was employing her were even aware of the crash until several weeks after it happened. Granted, the Tribune has been on a downward slope ever since they got rid of "Dondi," but this is ridiculous.

Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum, Sam Neill and Jessica Lange are all actors whom I like to one degree or another but watching them struggling to make much of anything out of the material they have been dealt with here is terribly distressing. McAdams, you will recall, was last seen in the delightful "Midnight in Paris" and if there was one common complaint that people had with that otherwise great film, it was that she was stuck playing a character that was somewhat shrill and definitely underdeveloped but compared to what she is working with here, that part seems warm, cuddly and fully fleshed-out by comparison. Stuck with an impossible part that finds her at the mercy of the contrivances of the screenplay, she is never convincing for a second (though she does often act as though she has recently hit her head on something) and is frankly kind of unpleasant throughout, to be honest. As for Tatum, who actually strikes me as a better actor than he is often given credit for because of his looks (while his recent appearance on "Saturday Night Live" wasn't especially distinguished thanks to the clunky writing, he certainly proved himself to be game for what they were throwing at him and displayed a nice sense of humor), he gets little to do other than to look forlorn/soulful while strutting around half-undressed. Sam Neill, stuck playing the evil daddy role, seems to have responded to the challenge by reprising his role as the adult son of Satan himself in the redoubtable "Omen III--The Final Conflict" while Jessica Lange contributes what may very well be the worst performance of her entire screen career--even the bit in "King Kong" where she struggled in Kong's paw while calling him a "male chauvinist ape" had more quiet dignity than anything that she does here.

Incredibly enough, "The Vow" opens with a title card announcing that the story is "inspired by true events" and at the end, it offers up a photograph of the real-life couple (unnamed, as I recall) with another title card filling in a few more details. Under normal circumstances, the words "inspired by true events" are a signal that virtually everything that we are about to see is absolute hooey but in the case of this film, that sensation is more overwhelming than usual because unless the real-life people found themselves in a scenario taken directly from a bad soap opera, there is no way that reality could include so many ham-handed cliches and unbelievable situations as those seen here. In fact, if I had to guess, I would have to say that the only 100% completely believable items on display here are that there is a law school at Northwestern University and that there is indeed a newspaper called the Chicago Tribune. Then again, based on the depictions seen here, there is an excellent chance that both of them may have disappeared for good by the time "The Vow" hits DVD.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22436&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/09/12 21:39:14
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User Comments

6/17/12 The Taitor Anothre rehashed idea with ok acting but there's a lot here that is unsatisfactory 2 stars
3/01/12 Lenny Zane ChanningTatum resembles ForestGump -- no doubt intentional tie-in w/box o'chocolates scene! 3 stars
2/25/12 Man Out Six Bucks Hubby is just a one-note penis. He would look better in Blackwater or NFL gear 1 stars
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  10-Feb-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-May-2012


  DVD: 08-May-2012

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