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'The Vow' fails to live up to its promise, critics say

February 10, 2012 |  3:29 pm

The Vow

On paper, the new film "The Vow" might seem like a rom-com juggernaut. The film boasts swoony leads Rachel McAdams ("The Notebook") and Channing Tatum ("Dear John"), writing alums from "My So-Called Life" and "Valentine's Day," and a story inspired by true events: a newlywed couple trying to reconnect after the wife suffers accident-related amnesia. But while "The Vow" appears poised to win the box office this week, critical reaction to the film has been lukewarm.

In a mixed review, The Times' Betsy Sharkey calls "The Vow" "a movie that leaves you wanting more. To care more, to cry more, to love more." While Sharkey commends Rogier Stoffers' cinematography, Kalina Ivanov's production design and Jessica Lange's supporting performance, she also writes that "The problems start with a very lopsided script." Four people share the screenplay credit, Sharkey notes, and "you feel their separate sensibilities fighting for control." As for the lead actors, Tatum fares well enough, but McAdams is given less to work with ("a lot of smiles and blank stares") and thus feels wasted.

USA Today's Claudia Puig is tepid on "The Vow," writing that the film "may appeal to the most rabid fans of tearjerk romances like 'The Notebook,' but it's a hard-to-swallow, maudlin tale." Puig adds that "nearly every move feels calculated to wring tears or dopey grins," and at the same time "there's never any doubt whether love will conquer all in this predictable wannabe heart-warmer."

The New York Times' A.O. Scott calls "The Vow" a "mild, soggy romance" and laments that the filmmakers didn't make more of its premise. "This could have been a rich, strange melodrama; a psychological thriller; a horror movie; a dark comedy; or any combination of these, and scholarly viewers can relieve the tedium by imagining it remade by more daring filmmakers," Scott writes. For their part, Scott says, Tatum and McAdams offer "physical charm and emotional warmth" in their shared scenes, but overall the picture is "a pretty weak brew."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times agrees with Scott that "The Vow" could have raised the stakes. "This same story could be a fraught melodrama with pumped-up characters and dire consequences," he writes. Instead, "'The Vow' is more of a sweet date movie for Valentine's Day … it's all too painless." Among the film's bright spots, Ebert says, is Scott Speedman, playing a former flame and renewed romantic rival.

The Boston Globe's Ty Burr stops well short of a rave review, but he does call "The Vow" "quite watchable date-night cheese — the kind of movie you can simultaneously snort at and enjoy." Though Burr says Tatum is "an actor who appears to have two and a half facial expressions," he nonetheless says the heartthrob delivers "an honest performance and an effective one." Burr's highest praise goes to Lange, who "wipes the floor with every other actor in the film" via a short monologue.

In Variety, Peter Debruge also finds things to like, including Michael Sucsy's direction. Debruge writes, "'The Vow' feels as unabashedly sentimental as [other] melodramas, but resists the cloying impulse to manufacture tragedy for easy tears. It's also wonderfully specific, fabricating details about Leo [Tatum] and Paige's [McAdams] relationship against which girls will judge their suitors for decades to come."

Of course, tearjerkers like "The Vow" don't live and die by critics' reviews. The number of tissues used per theater or sobs per minute might be more accurate metrics. Ultimately, time will tell whether "The Vow" endures as a sentimental favorite or becomes a forgotten memory.


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— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams in "The Vow." Credit: Kerry Hayes / Sony Pictures