Channing Tatum was once a stripper. He also, once, wrote a lengthy email to his 21 Jump Street co-star composed almost entirely of "HA HA"s. He appeared in Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" music video as a topless bartender, and he nicknamed his penis Gilbert. He's known for playing a beefcake (semi-based on himself), a dumb cop, the voice of Lego Superman, and a slew of other comedic, often bro-y roles. He is, by many accounts, a pretty silly dude. But as goofy as he may be, Channing Tatum is a serious actor, and we need to start treating him like one — seriously.
In his latest flick, Logan Lucky, Tatum plays one third of the Logan siblings (alongside Adam Driver and Riley Keough) who are historically unlucky, and maybe even cursed. Known around town for being poor, stupid, and consistently behind the eight ball, the Logan siblings devise an outrageous plan to make them all rich. The plan is doomed from the beginning, and includes breaking a felon (Daniel Craig) out of prison, breaking into a safe by way of cockroaches painted with nail polish, and robbing NASCAR on their biggest race of the year. Like so many of Tatum's films — the Jump Street franchise, Magic Mike, The Lego Movie, She's the Man, et al. — it's full of big laughs and ridiculous scenarios. Yet Tatum's Jimmy Logan is the most grounded character of all.
The film's additional leads — Adam Driver and Daniel Craig — are already well-established as serious, dramatic actors. Driver's portrayal of Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens elevated and darkened the franchise as fans know it. And last year, Driver took on the title role of Paterson in a critically-applauded indie. Craig, who has taken on James Bond for four films and counting, has had his fair-share of serious roles — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Munich — also. There's no arguing that these men are capable of the meatiest of roles, and yet it is Tatum, WHOSE [who's] resume boasts popcorn comedies and cheesy dance flicks, who delivers the most compelling emotional beats.
He plays a down-and-out dad with a young daughter who just got fired from his construction working job because of a bad leg. He engages in ridiculous schemes not for the adventure, but for his daughter, and for his one-armed brother, who works for peanuts as a bartender. Like all trusty heroes, our guy is doing it for the most relatable and worthy cause of all — his family.
And Tatum nails the role. He's completely believable and worthy of our empathy. As he fixes a broken car with his young daughter, or takes a punch for his little brother at a bar, audiences may be startled by the depth in which Tatum convinces us to feel for this character. No surface level actor could pull it off — full stop.
After seeing Logan Lucky, Chicago Tribune writer Michael Phillips apologized to the actor in his review of the film, saying, "I’m officially apologizing for some of the things I wrote about Channing Tatum several movies ago. Initially I thought he had little to offer, beyond a physique and a few dance moves, plus a few more exotic dance moves..." He concludes by saying, "He has learned, gradually and now assuredly, how to relax on camera and just be."
Though if you look at Tatum's filmography, he's had the serious actor thing down for years prior to Logan Lucky — we just haven't been paying attention. Take, perhaps the most obviously dramatic item on his resume, 2014's Foxcatcher. Inspired by the true story of U.S. Olympic wresters and brothers Mark and Dave Schulz, the film follows the men as they train for the 1988 Olympic Games with multi-millionaire John du Pont — who ends up killing one of them.
Tatum plays Mark, the younger of the brothers, and the one who survives du Pont's vicious attack. New York Times critic Manhola Dargis nailed it when she called Tatum's role a "poetic male primitive." He is, as anyone with two eyes can see, a specimen of muscle and braun, but there's something unexpected lurking underneath. In Foxcatcher, Tatum uses his physicality as an accessible entry point for the viewer, then slowly peels back deeper, more nuanced layers.
Yet even this impressive performance couldn't free him from being typecast. When the first trailer for Quentin Tarantino's Hateful Eight hit the internet, the Huffington Post joked that though Tatum, as outlaw Jody, was clearly present in the clip, they couldn't confirm it was him until they saw him "doing some sort of sexy pop-and-lock routine."
But by now audiences should know that Tatum is so much more than his professional dance background. He's more than his goofy Lip Sync Battle performance, and there are likely more layers yet to be revealed.
Perhaps with Logan Lucky, out August 18, fans — and critics — will start to recognize the many shades of Tatum. It might be more fun to see the actor grind on his work station to "Pony" (because oh boy, is that fun) but we need to give him a fair shot at subsequent, serious roles. This is an actor whose talents reach far beyond his titilating dance routines, and Logan Lucky is another film that could cement this — if we're only willing to pay attention.