It’s a tricky business, this whole “opposites attract” thing in romantic comedies. If you’re going to make two diametrically different people fall into each other’s arms, you have to create some sort of middle ground where they can meet.
And if you want a further appreciation of how difficult it is to write a good rom-com, learn from the example of “The Ugly Truth,” the kind of movie that will make you glad most airlines offer you several options of in-flight entertainment. To call the characters and situations sketchy would be to disparage the power of sketches.
Abby (Katherine Heigl) is a hyper-organized producer of a morning happy-talk news show that’s sinking in the ratings. Her bosses decide that the show needs some controversy to spice things up, so they hire Mike (Gerard Butler), the host of a cable-access show called “The Ugly Truth,” to come in and do daily segments about dating and relationships.
Mind you, Mike’s men-are-pigs-women-should-deal-with-it shtick isn’t any fresher than the comedy stylings of Dane Cook or any third-rate Howard Stern plagiarist, but suddenly, Abby’s show is a big hit. Less successful is Abby’s love life, due to her high-strung, control-freak nature.
Tired of her digs, Mike agrees to become Abby’s dating coach in return for her not constantly slagging him. Their goal is to win the heart of Colin (Eric Winter), the blandly hunky doctor who lives next door, and Mike’s strategy includes putting Colin’s calls on hold, shopping for rump-enhancing jeans and giving Abby a pair of vibrating panties to get her, er, back in the game, as it were.
This latter undergarment leads to the film’s big sequence where a young boy picks up the remote control and sends Abby into fits of ecstasy while she’s trying to conduct a business dinner. The whole orgasm-in-public thing is obviously meant to elicit memories of “When Harry Met Sally,” but the difference between the two movies highlights the flaws of “The Ugly Truth.”
When Sally does her loud fake-climax in the deli, it’s to shame Harry by proving a point about women’s ability to fake fulfillment. When Abby can’t stop her eyes from rolling to the back of her head, she’s the one being humiliated; someone else is controlling her sexuality in that moment, and all Mike can do is sneer and chuckle. Sadly, it’s one of several sequences in which Abby winds up looking like a complete idiot in the pursuit of love.
Heigl, it should be noted, is one of the film’s executive producers. That she had the gall to complain about the sexism of “Knocked Up” while spearheading “The Ugly Truth” — a film in which the female lead is an uptight twit who is constantly put in her place — is astounding. (That makes two auto-misogynist comedies in a row for Heigl, following the loathsome “27 Dresses.”)
Butler never makes Mike more than a sitcom stereotype of a knuckle-dragging sexist; it doesn’t help that cinematographer Russell Carpenter seems to have conspired with the hair and makeup people to make the usually handsome actor look like a walking amalgam of the worst facets of all four Baldwin brothers.
Inevitably, “The Ugly Truth” pushes Mike and Abby together, but there’s never any indication that these two awful people belong anywhere near each other. By the time they have their big showdown in a hot air balloon (a sequence, incidentally, featuring some of the fakiest green-screen work in recent memory), you’ll be pleading for an “Oh, the humanity!” ending to this cinematic Hindenberg.
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