Ugly Variation On A Tired Theme

In This Latest Twist On The Battle-of-the-sexes Romantic Comedy, Everyone's A Loser * 1/2 ( 1 1/2 Stars)

July 24, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,

A battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedy in which extreme opposites eventually attract. Now there's something you don't see every day.

Well, actually, you do, and The Ugly Truth offers yet another variation on a theme that had been worked to death back in the days of Laurel and Hardy. The only difference here is that the disparity is taken to bawdy, stereotyped extremes that are often offensive, occasionally funny but mostly just tired.

Poor TV morning-show producer Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is a high-strung mess, so regimented and such a control freak that she's absolutely incapable of having fun, or of satisfying a boyfriend. When the station, desperate for ratings, hires irrepressible bore Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) to spice things up by pontificating on the "ugly truth" about women (the guy sets both feminism and civilization back a few centuries every time he opens his mouth), Richter is absolutely aghast. And, wouldn't you know it, strangely attracted. Which causes no amount of hilarity, especially given that he's trying to "help" Abby snag the studly doctor living next door by guiding her step-by-step through the dating and courtship process.

(I'd mention here that this makes The Ugly Truth a crass derivative of Cyrano de Bergerac, with Abby playing Roxane to Mike's Cyrano, except that the ghost of Edmond Rostand would haunt me the rest of my days.)

Thank goodness the filmmakers had the wisdom (or good luck) to cast Heigl in the role of the repressed female, just waiting for some earthy guy to unlock her inner siren. As happened with last year's 27 Dresses, Heigl's fresh-faced beauty and innate likability, combined with an ingratiating willingness to try just about anything, accounts for whatever appeal the movie has. There's some good slapstick fun, and a scene where her "vibrating panties" run amok in a high-class restaurant is both hilarious and sexy.

But The Ugly Truth can't escape its own ugly truth, that the central characters are written to extremes both ludicrous and tiring; the sparks that fly between them are totally manufactured. Screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith and Nicole Eastman can't decide whether Butler's Chadway is really a sensitive guy, who just does this stuff for show, or a scraggly bearded Neanderthal looking to score through whatever means necessary. Butler, for his part, just growls a lot, and when his sensitive nature is supposed to be at the forefront, looks perpetually confused. Which is understandable, given the mess of a movie he's in.

'The Ugly Truth'

(Columbia Pictures) Starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. Directed by Robert Luketic. Rated R for sexual content and language. Time 97 minutes.

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