The strong stench from “The Vow” is likely to overwhelm the smell of popcorn in movie theaters this weekend.
This stinker of a romantic drama is “inspired by” -- those coverall weasel words so beloved by studio legal departments -- the true story of Kim and Krickett Carpenter. Shortly after marrying, the couple was in a car accident in 1993. Krickett suffered a major brain injury that wiped out, permanently, her memory of Kim and their life together. He had to woo and win her all over again.
Fans hoping to wallow again in the same, high-class romantic mush they so eagerly embraced in "2004's" popular “The Notebook," which also starred Rachel McAdams (opposite Ryan Gosling), are going to find themselves in stuck in far deeper, dopier muck here.
In “The Vow,” the Carpenters are rechristened as Paige (McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum) but the bare outline of their story remains the same (and we see a photo of the real Carpenters at the end of the film). What the movie does, and this is where it starts getting odiferous, is ham-handedly add a back-story and various pesky obstacles to keep the two from reuniting quickly.
Paige was a free-spirited artist when she and Leo meet and fall in love in Chicago. But upon awakening from her coma, she thinks that her husband, seemingly a stranger now sitting at her bedside, is one of her doctors. She has reverted to an earlier, pre-marriage version of herself–one Leo never knew–who’s a suburban socialite-in-training, complete with wealthy, over-protective, bourgeoisie parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange).
Paige and Leo apparently now have nothing in common and, oh look, there’s that oleaginous former fiancé of hers (Scott Speedman) lurking eagerly in the background.
All of this plays out ploddingly, made worse by dialogue so wooden (“How do you look at the girl you love and tell yourself it’s time to walk away?”) it practically clunks like blocks thudding against each. The movie’s idea of wit: during their courtship, the couple hang out at coffee shop called Café Mnemonic–nudge, nudge, get it?
There’s little the cast can do but carry on as if all of this was meaningful. Tatum, whose essential galootishness makes him the modern day reincarnation of Aldo Ray (and the polar opposite of Ryan Gosling), lumbers through doing his awkward best to play a sensitive lug. McAdams, an actress who can’t help but be radiant, hits all the right notes but there’s an essential, uneasy girlishness to the performance that rings irritatingly false.
In fairness, I should note that several young women seated near me at a screening gasped at every plot revelation -- apparently, they hadn’t seen it coming from a mile away -- and expressed audible delight every single time, and there are several, that the muscular Tatum stripped down to his skivvies or less.