Review in a Hurry: The publicity for The Vow would have you believe it's primarily about a man (Channing Tatum) constantly re-wooing his amnesiac wife (Rachel McAdams), in a manner that subtly reminds audience members not to get complacent about their own love lives.
The actual movie is a bit more complicated than that, and more of a mixed bag.
Not everything in it works, but the lack of reliance on easy answers earns it enough credibility points for a passing grade. Those hoping for a fairy tale may disagree.
The Bigger Picture: Channing Tatum has his charms, but none of them are derived from his ability, such as it is, to read voice-over narration in an interesting manner. So things get off to a shaky start, as Paige (McAdams) goes through a car windshield and Leo (Tatum) starts trying to sound profound about moments of impact.
Flashback four years (as indicated by an onscreen title, so again, the narration is pointless but at least it stops shortly thereafter), and we see the couple meet cute while obtaining parking permits: she in a bad dye-job, he in a really dorky hat. They go out on a date to the overly ironically named Cafe Mnemonic. Get married guerilla-style in an art gallery. And now the kicker: the crash has left her without any memory of the last five years.
This brings up the conflict the movie is really interested in. Turns out she was raised a wealthy blueblood, but dropped out of law school to rebel against her parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange), dump her fiance, move to Chicago and become a successful artist. Leo has never even met her parents, but now that the folks sense a clean slate, they're back to erase that whole rebellion thing from Paige's life with a fresh start.
This all requires that you buy Tatum as some sort of working-class hipster who isn't outwardly and blatantly more of an ideal male than the spoiled, smarmy ex (Scott Speedman). Yes, that's preposterous; just go with it, guys, because this is payback for the bazillion times that someone like Rachael Leigh Cook or Zooey Deschanel has supposedly represented an "average" girl onscreen.
McAdams and Tatum both made big splashes in Nicolas Sparks adaptations, but despite what you may think, this isn't one.
For that, you'll have to wait till April when Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling bring you The Lucky One. Statements like "based on true events" mean next to nothing anymore, but in the context of The Vow, it does result in a less "Hollywood" depiction of brain damage. This amnesia is not conveniently selective, nor easily curable with a second bang to the head. And even when it seems like an awfully convenient plot development will clear everything up, the story nonetheless refuses to go the easy way.
The plot's more suited to a quirky indie than a mainstream romance, so it'll be interesting to see how the Sparks fans react to it. With luck, it'll help them graduate to smarter fare.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Leo's best friends remain astoundingly underdeveloped. There are many of them, and we sense they're supposed to have personalities, but not much is actually shown. Part of this movie's attempt to avoid cliché is that it doesn't give us de rigueur wisecracking BFFs, but you may feel the loss at times.