“Can a once-in-a-lifetime love find a second chance?” This is the teaser posed in Michael Sucsy’s The Vow (2012), a poorly written, execrably executed piece of romantic piffle starring two of Hollywood’s drippiest, Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. Sucsy’s film is so feeble that it makes you think back affectionately (well, almost) to Nick Cassavetes’s The Notebook (2004), which seems, in memory at least, like a pretty spirited piece of movie-making by comparison. “Inspired” by a true story, The Vow is something of a Random Harvest for the 2010s (just what the world needed, right?). It focuses on a married couple, Paige (McAdams) and Leo (Tatum), whose perfect young love hits the buffers when Paige awakens from a post-car-crash coma unable to remember anything about Leo, their marriage or the last five years of her life. Paige is soon pulled back into the orbit of the parents she’s been estranged from (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), with Leo relegated to the sidelines. “I gotta make my wife fall in love with me again,” he resolves. After all: “It only took her two weeks the first time.”
I watched The Vow in the interests of Jessica Lange completism. But flitting in and out of the movie, looking either smug or disapproving, Lange is barely there. One of the most vivid, inventive actresses of our era is given practically nothing to do, with only one meagre scene that she’s able to make her own. And as expected, the leads can’t come up with anything fresh to compensate. McAdams’s one-emotion-at-a-time shallowness isn't exactly adequate to convey the confusion of a woman experiencing a serious identity crisis, and Tatum matches her for blandness scene by scene. He’s a chunk of nothing, and Sucsy resorts to having him remove his shirt at intervals to sustain audience interest. Scott Speedman shows a little bit of spark as Paige’s former beau. But his big confrontation scene with Tatum - it takes place at a wedding, natch - is such a contrived, generic encounter that you end up embarrassed for him, too.
There’s scarcely a believable interaction in the whole inept, insufferably glossy movie - the scenes range from fake to plain screwy - but my favourite bad moment comes early on, in the sequence in which Paige and Leo exchange their pivotal pledges. “I vow to help you love life, to always hold you with tenderness… To live within the warmth of your heart and always call it home,” Paige breathes. Leo offers: “I vow to fiercely love you, in all your forms, now and forever, and to never forget that this is a once-in-a-lifetime love.” Are these the kind of vows anyone in their right mind would want to hear, even once? Well, Sucsy and his screenwriters (Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Jason Katims share the credit) must think so, since we get to experience these gems a further two times in the movie. The Vow might have had something going for it if its cornball premise had been jazzed up and played for laughs, but what’s resulted instead is wet pap that might have been laughed off the screen seventy years ago. Change the “c” in “Sucsy” for a “d” and you’d have quite the most appropriate name for a director in the whole of film history.