Channing Tatum sets the bar for physical comedy actors in ’22 Jump Street’


When it comes to “22 Jump Street,” go to look at Channing Tatum’s, right, impressive physique, stay to laugh at Channing Tatum’s impressive physique. Oh, and Jonah Hill, too. (Columbia Pictures)

Let’s talk about the impressive physical attributes of Channing Tatum. Oh, not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter.

OK, like that. But just for a minute.

And we’re back. Tatum returns in “22 Jump Street” (opening Friday), a very funny successor to 2012’s very funny “21 Jump Street.” And he’s better than he was in the first one, even though he keeps his shirt on much of the time.

The bulk of his comedy here comes from his earnestness — as the lunkheaded Jenko, he’s rarely in on the joke — but it’s very clear that Tatum is one of the best physical comedians working today.

“22 Jump Street” plays more to this particular strength than the first film did. While most of the humor just illustrates the difference between Jenko and his less-fit partner Schmidt (Jonah Hill. Two-time Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill. Why can I never get my mind around that?), what really shows off Tatum’s gift for slapstick are the smaller moments.

There’s one scene where he rolls off the back of a couch. It’s an easy move; you or I could do it, especially if there was a pad underneath to protect our impossibly good-looking faces. But when Tatum hits the top, he kicks his legs out. It’s a conscious move — Tatum is a trained dancer, so not much about his body happens by accident — but one that isn’t necessary to carry him over the couch. It’s also not the kind of move a director tells you to do. I’m willing to bet real money he did it just because he knew on an instinctual level it would be funny. The rolling is scripted and easy; the kick is impromptu and takes talent.

It’s tough to find good-looking guys who can really do physical comedy; Keaton and Chaplin, who set the bar by which all others are measured, weren’t heartthrobs. Johnny Depp can do it; most of his Jack Sparrow performances are largely based on the physical. Tatum might be better, though.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but in “22 Jump Street” he reminded me of Cary Grant. (Shut up.) A professional acrobat at 15, Grant used his body not only in comedies to great effect (like in “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “The Philadelphia Story”) but also later, when he was a more “serious” actor (he skulks in “North by Northwest” like no one has skulked before or since).

Channing Tatum isn’t Cary Grant, but it took a long time for Cary Grant to be Cary Grant. Tatum should stop with the dumb action films and the dumber tearjerkers and wait for the films that show off the talent behind all those muscles.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · June 13