Girls are crazy for Channing Tatum. Seriously, there was a row of girls behind me at The Vow who literally squealed when he appeared shirtless for 15 seconds (they also giggled during the love scenes and muttered “say yes” in case Rachel McAdams looked like she might say no). And, like the Gerard Butler fascination, that’s not something I’ve ever really understood. I’ve always considered him a little too neanderthal-y for my taste, but I’m starting to get it. He’s all muscly jock, but, as we learned in Step Up and in a very naughty Bat Mitzvah routine on SNL, he can dance; and he married his co-star from that romantic movie where he was her wrong-side-of-the-tracks dance partner; and he volunteered to do SNL even if he might look stupid; and he co-wrote the story of his life as a screenplay (even if it is about being a male stripper); and he’s not halfway bad in The Vow, in which he plays guitar, wears a pea-coat, keeps a hot chocolate-related tradition, proclaims his unconditional love and gets married in an art museum. In her Vow review, Rachael pointed out that the character’s supreme hipster-ness seemed a little odd on Tatum, because “what hipster really spends that much time at the gym?”, and she’s right. But I think that might be why people like him. Because if Channing Tatum was really just what he looks like he’d be- a former male stripper who probably played highschool football and got straight Cs before embarking on a life full of energy drinks and action movies- there’d be no fascination there. Tatum’s power isn’t, as is widely believed, in his abs, it’s in his spirit of contradiction.
All this isn’t to say that I think he’s the most talented guy in the world. To be honest, The Vow is the first thing I’ve ever seen in which he seemed to be more than a dancing caveman or misplaced marine. But if you set aside the part of your brain that knows how a real life version of his character would feel about his biceps and waxed chest (and if you find a way to block out the cheesy voiceover bits), Tatum is actually pretty believable in The Vow– he’s charming and sweet and displays a self-effacing comic timing I never would have predicted.
A middling monologue about ashamed former strip-club clients, an enjoyable but repetitive bit about NFL commentators shooting a promo, a decent Tom Brady impression in a boring sketch and the aforementioned dance routine were the only at all enjoyable things about Tatum’s recent SNL hosting gig (aside from the inspired Lana Del Ray Weekend Update segment: “in this age of dangerous school bullying, you have sent an important message- if you think someone is weird, you should criticize them as much as possible”, which didn’t feature Tatum). But the ripped actor really went for it, which (aside from knowing how to read cue cards without being obvious- yes I’m talking to you, Zooey Deschanel) is the only real requirement to pass the SNL test- the rest depends on what kind of material Seth and Co. decide to give you; chances are the writing staff weren’t putting their gold in a drawer waiting for their chance to use it on Channing Tatum…
…but maybe they should have. Maybe the more Channing Tatum takes on projects that seem out of his natural range, the bigger that range will get. After all, I certainly never thought he could sell a love story on the strength of his sweet sincerity alone*, but he put on a fedora and scarf, picked up an acoustic guitar and said “we’ll see about that”.
*It should also be noted that, cheesy voiceover-aside, the writing in The Vow isn’t bad at all. For starters, despite what the trailers attempt to suggest, it is not a Nicholas Sparks story so much as it is based on a true story. Add TV showrunner superstar Jason Katims and The Vow‘s script is being sadly undersold.