'The Vow" is better than it should be

Michael Sucsy’s “The Vow” is a movie that’s better than it probably should be.

The ads make it look like an adaptation of another of Nicholas Sparks’ sappy, shallow romance novels. In fact in the official trailer they heavily advertise the fact that both its big stars, Rachael McAdams and Channing Tatum, were in previous Sparks adaptations. I had to take another look at the trailer and the promotional materials to find out that it wasn’t based on one of Sparks’ books but instead inspired by true events.

That’s peculiar because “The Vow” has the right look and feel of a Nicholas Sparks fantasy. Perhaps screenwriters Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Sucsy took the real events and ran them through the Sparks processor. The film has glossy, picturesque cinematography by Rogier Stoffers with its two attractive leads in the center photographed like gods while Rachael Portman’s music is tinny, sometimes annoying pop rock.

It has a Sparkian set up: Tatum and McAdams play Leo and Paige, a newly married couple who are just so in love with each other, ever since they first awkwardly met in a parking lot. She’s an art student, he runs a small recording studio so they aren’t rolling in money but that doesn’t matter because they are so happy. Did I mention they were madly in love?

But then, uh oh! A Nicholas Sparks curve ball: They both get in a car accident and Paige loses her memory up until right before she met Leo. She thinks she’s still in law school and on good terms with her snobby judgmental parents played Sam Neill and Jessica Lange. And for one final wrench in the machine she thinks she’s still supposed to be with her douche ex fiancé Jeremy (Scott Speidman). So it’s up to Leo to take Paige down memory lane to regain her memory so they can still be together.

If this had been Nicholas Sparks inspired all that stuff would amount to a steaming pile but instead he’s going to wish he had written something like this. Simply because it doesn’t go exactly the way you expect it to go. Just as it’s gearing up for some cliché romance movie moment and you’re about to hang your head and groan, it takes a detour.

McAdams is her usual charming, peppy self, although she’s not as hyper as she has been in the past, like in 2010’s “Morning Glory.” She has it down to a fine art but you can already guess that from the trailer.

The more interesting specimen is Tatum. I’ve always thought of him as a mediocre actor, and just eye candy. Here he’s still eye candy but he actually does a decent job of keeping you interested and invested in his character. At first you may be a little thrown off by his line readings, as he’s trying to go for a sarcastic/charming performance. If you’ve seen any of his previous films you know that isn’t in his comfort zone, so he looks a little uncomfortable. And sometimes you wish he’d be a little more aggressive in trying to get Paige back. Overall though it’s an improvement for his career.

“The Vow” is still far from perfect, could have used fewer make up/passionate speeches towards the end, and Tatum’s character does some narration at the beginning and end that’s superfluous. Also, the film is still candy, whichever way you wrap it. The whole ordeal feels quite painless considering the circumstances. But as far as candy goes there are worse kinds, like a Nicholas Sparks movie.

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