Review: 'The Ugly Truth'

Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler star in this raunchy romantic comedy that plays along a predicable curve.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl star in "The Ugly Truth."
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The ugly truth in the romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth" is that men and women, despite their warring mind-sets, are made for each other. Alert the media. An even uglier truth, though unintentional, emerges: Hollywood will do anything these days for laughs, even if means spackling a frothy date-night mediocrity like this one with hard R-rated humor. Again, alert the media.

On the other hand, minus the raunch, "The Ugly Truth," directed by Robert ("Legally Blonde") Luketic, would be even more formulaic and less bizarre. It's an oddity, a squeaky-clean "dirty" movie – no different, really, from any old Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicle, except that any raciness that once was implicit has now become superexplicit.

Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is the overworked producer for the morning TV talk show "A.M. Sacramento." Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) is the shock jock who is recruited from cable against Abby's strenuous objections to boost the show's ratings with his daily chauvinistic rants about what men want and women really need.

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Since it's clear these natural enemies will end up lovebirds, we wait, in vain, for some artful storytelling to ensue. But the screenwriters – Nicole Eastman and the "Legally Blonde" team Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith – don't do anything we haven't seen before, and better. Abby, the control-freak, messes up a blind date because she's ... overcontrolling. Abby, the successful career woman, has only her pet cat for companionship. Abby, the love-starved romantic, reluctantly looks to the macho misogynist for advice on how to land that good-looking physician (Eric Winter) who just moved next door. And so on. (There's even a restaurant scene that pilfers the "I'll have what she's having" moment from "When Harry Met Sally.")

It's unlikely that a woman of Abby's charms would be such a clueless ditz with no suitors in sight, but let that pass. It's also unlikely that Mike, with his take-no-prisoners advice to men on the make, would, off camera, in the company of his fatherless nephew, be such a "putty tat." But let that one pass, too. What can't be ignored is that, in the guise of telling it like it is about men and women, "The Ugly Truth" is just as false as Mike's raunchy rants (and lots more hypocritical). Abby, for example, finally gets beyond her checklist of Prince Charming qualifications and locates Mike's inner goodness. But what this really looks like, if you put aside all the cooing and cant, is that she's merely traded one successful hunk (the physician) for another (Mike). She leaves Prince Charming for Prince Disarming. Mike, unlike the doctor, accepts Abby for who she is. This is known as having your fantasy and eating it, too.

Heigl is sweetly bland, Butler is still trailing fumes from his days as Leonidas in "300." They look good together, though, which is more than you can say for Heigl and Winter. With her glossy blondness and his runway-ready physique, they're Barbie and Ken bots.

Hollywood comedies have steadily been raising the R-rated bar, and I suppose there's no turning back. But at least, most of the time anyway, the teen-pic gross-out fests aren't pretending to be something they're not. "The Ugly Truth" is a highly calculated attempt to recalibrate with raunch the family entertainment template and cash in. Compared with the producers of this film, Mike Chadway is a virgin. Grade: C (Rated R for sexual content and language.)

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