Channing Tatum was seemingly engineered in a lab to give uncomplicated pleasures to audiences
His impish comedic skills and graceful physicality make Tatum one of Hollywood’s most bankable – and watchable – stars.
by: Sophie Monks Kaufman
23 Apr 2022
Tatum in The Lost City with Sandra Bullock
Photo: Collection Christophel / Alamy
There are vanishingly few actors today who entertain via song, dance and twinkly-eyed charm. What used to be the staple skillset of Old Hollywood movie stars has long since been replaced by a tide of realism, naturalism and the ability to shapeshift with every role.
Step up, Channing Matthew Tatum, seemingly engineered in a lab to give uncomplicated pleasures to audiences. A song-and-dance man in the mode of Gene Kelly, whose tap-dancing, sailor-suit wearing prowess he channelled in Hail, Caesar! (2016), it’s his understated presence that makes him a modern star. Kelly had a cheesy grin; Tatum has a cheeky one with jughead ears that make his rippling physique seem unthreatening.
His latest big-screen outing is opposite another bona fide movie star, Sandra Bullock, in the glossy rom-com romp The Lost City.
Bullock plays romance novelist Loretta Sage, who is kidnapped and taken to a tropical island by an evil billionaire. Tatum plays her book cover star, Alan. Loretta dismisses him as an airhead until he wins her over with earnest attempts to be helpful, despite hurdles like being allergic to water.
Standout moments involve Tatum in a flowing blonde wig and having leeches plucked off his bare derriere. He is a game performer, always happy to use his physical gifts for maximum comedy impact.
Tatum had no formal acting training, but started learning martial arts as a child growing up in Mississippi. He would spend hours repeating the same moves in a bid to nail them. “I learned to appreciate repetition. That’s why I can dance. It’s how I learned to act. I have a high tolerance for repetition,” he told Esquire in 2014.
This ease with discipline is a quality visible to this day. He pulls off arduous physical tasks with amiable energy, and gives typically sober action sequences an air of fun and mischief.
His family moved from Mississippi to Florida, where Tatum picked up dancing by practising with the grandmothers of girls he was seeing. Then on to Hollywood for modelling, commercials and bit parts. Watch the video for Ricky Martin’s She Bangs (2000) with a magnifying glass to see him as a topless bartender.
He started to be cast as street toughs and romantic heroes, sometimes both as in his 2006 calling card, the dance movie Step Up. As Tyler Gage, a prodigy from the wrong side of the tracks, there are glimmers of the charismatic movie star he would become. His default louche delivery is in play as he lets his body do the talking, winning over monied dance student Nora (Jenna Dewan) with graceful athleticism and grounded charm.
The film that changed his reputation after a slew of action flicks and romances was 21 Jump Street (2012) and its equally great sequel 22 Jump Street (2014). Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller paired him with established comic performer, Jonah Hill, in their buddy-cop movie reboot of the ’80s TV series.
Talking to HeyUGuys in 2014, Lord talked about meeting Tatum, who was not known at the time for comedy. “We knew within five minutes and we were both like, ‘This guy’s hilarious and charming and so funny and natural and I don’t know why anybody hadn’t discovered that he’s a really funny guy!’ And so we felt like we were sitting on a very exciting secret.”
Tatum and Hill’s chemistry is a constant source of uproarious amusement and delight, with no gag too small not to be executed with precision. Tatum shines the brightest when he has a comedy partner, ideally a quick-witted, physically contrasting actor (like Hill or Bullock) who can make scathing remarks, drawing out many adorable flavours of woundedness.
Tatum’s biggest asset is a willingness to be the butt of jokes. He understands that someone with his body is expected to be fearsome, yet he only ever uses it to treat us.
Which brings us to Magic Mike (2012), or rather its sequel: Magic Mike XXL (2015), dessert to the original’s main course. I can think of no film that conveys its desire to please more swiftly.
Consider the opening scene of Tatum, muscles bulging in a vest top, as the squelchy beats of Ginuwine’s Pony fill his carpentry studio. He smiles that impish, infectious little smile before dancing with his power tools with such sexual innuendo that sparks literally fly.
Channing Tatum is a maestro of the tease. He knows what we want and always delivers that with spin. This year marked his directorial debut in Dog, an unexpected little gem. Whatever muscles he has to flex in the future, we will gladly watch them move.
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