In The Lost City, a Fabio-esque cover model named Alan (played by Channing Tatum) wants to prove to prolific romance novelist Loretta (Sandra Bullock) that there’s a side of him she hasn’t seen yet. So when Loretta is kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) who believes she’s the only person capable of uncovering the location of a lost treasure on a volcanic island, Alan jumps at the opportunity to be the hero. Naturally, for a dude who lists being “certified CrossFit” as one of his skills, Alan doesn’t cover himself in glory—in fact, he gets covered in something a bit more horrifying. After Alan escapes a trio of henchmen by jumping into a river, several leeches latch onto his back, a predicament that gets worse when he pulls down his pants and realizes that even more leeches are feasting on his bare ass. If nothing else, Loretta certainly sees a new side of Alan.
And with that—an exposed ass covered in leeches—Channing Tatum announced his glorious return to movie stardom like he was answering a himbo Bat Signal. After starring in Logan Lucky and Kingsman: The Golden Circle in 2017, Tatum underwent a self-imposed hiatus, doing only voice work (Smallfoot, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, America: The Motion Picture) and making a cameo in Free Guy over the past four years. As Tatum explained in a Variety profile last month, he felt burnt out from taking on too many projects, citing 22 Jump Street and Jupiter Ascending as two movies for which he “didn’t have the energy.” (That Tatum doesn’t believe he brought his A-game to 22 Jump Street makes moments like “My name is Jeff” even more impressive.) Thankfully, Tatum is back in a big way this year. In addition to The Lost City, Tatum starred in and codirected Dog, a movie about an Army Ranger who’s tasked with driving a troublesome military dog across the country to his handler’s funeral, and has reunited with Steven Soderbergh on a third Magic Mike film that’s currently in production. (He has described Magic Mike’s Last Dance as a “reverse-role Pretty Woman story that ends up with a lot of dancing in it,” and, well, say no more.) These projects aren’t necessarily bringing out a new side of Tatum, but at a time when movie stars continue to be overshadowed by blockbuster franchises, there’s nothing wrong with Hollywood’s most endearing airheads sticking to a winning formula.
To Tatum’s credit, Dog is outside of his wheelhouse—at least behind the camera. Sharing directorial duties with Magic Mike scribe Reid Carolin, Tatum’s return to the big screen was marketed as a feel-good movie: a familiar comedy about a dog and a human companion finding trouble and wacky hijinks wherever the road takes them. But while Dog does have some amusing detours, including a sequence in which Tatum’s Jackson Briggs befriends a couple of backwoods hippies who mistake him for a federal agent, the film also focuses on how the horrors of war have left permanent (and sometimes literal) scars on those who served—man and canine alike.
That Dog struggles at times to balance being a treatise on PTSD and a goofy road trip movie is perhaps unsurprising. (And to be fair, the jarring shifts in tone didn’t bother audiences, as Dog has already made a healthy profit from its $15 million production budget.) But for his first stint as a director, Tatum showed sharp instincts about his own appeal as a movie star—namely, that sharing screentime with an adorable dog would be a winning combination because he already exudes puppy dog energy himself. Say what you will about the critically panned Jupiter Ascending, but the Wachowskis enlisting Tatum to play a human-dog hybrid was some flawless casting.
To that end, The Lost City knows exactly what it’s going to get from Tatum, who has always been game to make himself the butt of the joke (pun very much intended). Alan’s desire to become a real-life version of the suave hero from Loretta’s novels, the perfectly named Dash McMahon, is obviously doomed to fail. It doesn’t help that Alan enlists a retired Navy SEAL (played, incredibly, by Brad Pitt) he met at a meditation retreat to help with his rescue mission, which only makes him feel more inadequate. But what Alan lacks in typical action hero skills he more than makes up for with his genuine affection for Loretta and her work, which she repeatedly dismisses as senseless smut. That Alan is the one who comes to the defense of Loretta’s novels—and the joy it elicits from her horny readership—feels especially on-brand given Tatum’s background as a former stripper, which loosely inspired the Magic Mike franchise. Alan isn’t ashamed to be associated with something that might be considered lowbrow; instead, he embraces it. It’s a sentiment that embodies the best of Tatum’s career on-screen: It doesn’t matter whether the work is highbrow or lowbrow—or, in the case of Magic Mike XXL, a “lowbrow subject with a highbrow creative team”—as long as it makes people happy.
For all the lovable doofuses he’s played over the years, it’s clear that Tatum is a shrewd star leaning into the himbo persona. (See: this tweet from Tuesday.) Make no mistake, he’s starred in his fair share of duds—primarily franchises, like G.I. Joe, that tried to mold him into a prototypical action hero. (“I fucking hate that movie,” Tatum has since said about The Rise of Cobra.) But Tatum has emerged from his hiatus by working on a passion project—Dog was inspired by his own dog Lulu’s death from cancer—and reviving the big-budget studio comedy alongside one of Hollywood’s most enduring rom-com stars. And if his comments to Variety about Marvel and the “traumatizing” experience of trying to make a Gambit movie are any indication, Tatum has no intention of navigating the kind of Hollywood ecosystem that could lead to another Rise of Cobra. Nor should he.
As The Lost City underlines, Tatum is at his best when his hunky physique is played against him for laughs, rather than when he plays it straight. A brief break from major film roles has done nothing to dilute Tatum’s comedic charm, and off the heels of Dog and The Lost City, here’s hoping the rest of Hollywood takes notice of his unique, crowd-pleasing skill set. Just like the dog in Dog, this movie star doesn’t need to learn any new tricks.