An opaque tower of pink-ish flesh, rising actor Channing Tatum has the imposing heft of an action star — there's a little b-boy humor wrapped around all the meat and tissue that immediately suggests he'd be best with a handgun and a tough guy quip. And yet his first real big break was as a soulfully dancing street kid in Step Up, a decidedly soft high school fantasy. A few years and a handful of small movies later, he landed the action hero role he seems physically destined for, as the main lunkhead in the noisy, senseless G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. (A sequel is coming this summer.) And yet he didn't quite seem to fit in there, did he? Amid all that unironic swaggering and chest-puffing, Tatum seemed like a boy playing dress up. Same for his Roman centurion picture The Eagle (actually not a bad way to spend a Saturday night, fyi), in which he affected a high school declamation-style Serious Voice as he stentorianally barked out words like "honor" and "father." No, he seemed more at home in Step Up, and in the Nicholas Sparks soldier romance weepy Dear John. Sure in these movies he's supposed to be a hard guy, but he's just the hardest thing in a vat of goop. Turns out Channing Tatum's a girl's guy, someone who personifies the vulnerable meathead, the secretly sensitive brawler, that is the object of so many adolescent girls' fantasies (and likely some adolescent boys', and some adults', too).
Which is why he seems perfect for a movie like The Vow, the new romance from director Michael Sucsy, written by a committee of five credited writers (and based-ish on a true story). Here Channing Tatum gets to be sad and in love, just like his fans want him, while his florally delicate costar Rachel McAdams both suffers and melts in his arms. Perfect. So what does he play? A cop? Another soldier? Some kind of underground krav maga prodigy? Well, um, actually, no. In the most glaring of the several ways this movie surprises you, he plays a Chicago hipster who owns a recording studio, an openly sensitive guy who marries his pretty young sculptor wife (also a hipster, or the movie's idea of such) at the Art Institute and loves nothing more than drinking wine out of mismatched glasses while sitting in mismatched chairs at the local boho cafe. The part itself isn't exactly beyond Tatum's scope — we're dealing with a range of Meat Is Happy to Meat Is Angry to Meat Is Sad — but the details of the character fit him as strangely as his Eagle armor. And he seems to know it, as he's willing to wear the bulky, drapey cable knit sweaters and even a jauntily crooked hat in one scene, but seems to draw the line at the tight jeans that are a requisite part of the modern urban artiste uniform. Nope, that is a bridge too far, and so he teeters (he walks like a penguin, doesn't he?) around in '90s-esque Brian Austin Green b-ball baggy jeans. The silly jeans serve as a signifier of how Tatum oddly stands out in his movies, how they always seem to be straining to include and define him and yet are unable to get a firm grasp on him. (But there's so much to grab!) He's better in The Vow than he is in, say, Fighting, but still he seems both bigger and smaller than the movie. It's not quite right.