Movie review: Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler in The Ugly Truth

Category: The Ugly Truth Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: July 22, 2009 | Publication: | Author: Anthony Salveggi
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I’ll say this for The Ugly Truth’s poster: With lead actress Katherine Heigl holding a heart in her hand while another rests over Gerard Butler’s nether region, it’s a fine example of truth in advertising. Though the film has its heart in the right place, it indulges in a frothy battle of the sexes that is informed less by wit and nuance than the one-sheet’s outright caricature and stereotype.

Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy) plays Abby, a Sacramento TV station producer who excels at being a coordinator of chaos, but whose controlling nature sabotages her attempts at romantic relationships. So inept is Abby that she scares off one date by boldly admitting she did a background check on him and then proceeds to give the bewildered fellow a list of talking points. Trust me, the concept is funnier than the rote execution.

When low ratings for the station’s morning show call for desperate measures, Abby is forced to work with Butler’s Mike, a brash man’s man brought on board to beef up ratings and pull the station out of last place with his provocative, piggish segment, “The Ugly Truth.”
Mike is as over-the-top crass as Abby is controlling, spouting a sexist philosophy on male-female relationships that views his own brethren as little more than tits-and-ass obsessed chest-thumpers. “Want a man?” he taunts his female viewers. “Get a Stairmaster.”

It’s just that kind of advice Mike dispenses when he sets out to prove his theories work and volunteers to play matchmaker for Abby and her hunky neighbor Colin, a young doctor blessed with model looks, a perfect body and an exceedingly bland personality.

With Mike’s help, Abby learns to subvert her true self and land her object of desire. But as soon as is she enjoying baseball games and picnics with Colin, Mike is reduced to giving a series of longing glances that portend the inevitable romantic kerfuffle. Likewise, Abby begins suspecting there’s more to her burgeoning TV star than meets the eye, particularly when Mike interacts with his nephew, who needs some words of wisdom in dealing with the fairer sex. Suffice it to say, the movie telegraphs its every move, and subtlety is nowhere to be found on its aesthetic radar.

Which would be all well and good if The Ugly Truth had complete faith in its well-worn tropes, instead of seeming slightly embarrassed by them. Unfortunately, this rom-com soufflé has been undercooked. While its characterizations and scenarios are stretched past the point of believability, it never dives into the deep end of full-tilt absurdity to get a laugh. Of the two leads, Butler fares best as a ruggedly handsome teddy bear with a chauvinist facade, exhibiting the charisma that has earned him a legion of female fans. Though Heigl gamely embraces the light slapstick of her role, she doesn’t push Abby far enough into her own neuroses or allow her to get totally unhinged.

Because the movie’s sweet central message – that men are capable of true love – isn’t deep or even revelatory, and its characters are two-dimensional at best, The Ugly Truth needs humor to transcend its formula trappings. Though the material he has to work with is far from first-rate, director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) inexplicably zips through the physical comedy, which is all the more bewildering in light of how much each set-piece relies far more on delivery than originality – and he wastes his talented supporting cast, most notably John Michael Higgins (Best in Show) and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm).

Which means The Ugly Truth hinges on romantic contretemps where nothing is really at stake. If Mike and Abby don’t get together by film’s end, Mike will still be secure in his “women want a checklist, not a real man” philosophy, and Abby can continue to believe that there are plenty of sensitive anti-Mikes out there who drink red wine, love cats and want more from women than just their naughty bits. The ugliest truth of The Ugly Truth is that the film keeps reminding viewers what, in the hands of better filmmakers, it could have been.