The Ugly Truth (2009)

The Ugly Truth is another in an apparently endless line of romantic comedies (and I use the term loosely) about a gorgeous, serious, lonely, workaholic, glasses-wearing single woman who desperately wants to meet Mr. Right. Abby (played by the voluptuous Katherine Heigl) is such a control freak that she ranks her dates according to how many of her ten essential criteria they meet. She also prefers tap water to bottled, since bottled water is just tap water with a markup. And The Ugly Truth is just When Harry Met Sally Met Judd Apatow but Forgot to Bring the Funny.

Judd Apatow, purveyor of manboy-centric comedies, is in no way personally responsible for The Ugly Truth. His movies are actually funny. The Ugly Truth is, on the other hand, a failed effort at matchmaking between the venerable chick flick romantic comedy and crude, potty-mouthed bromantic comedies of the Apatow-knockoff sort. Both parties should file for divorce citing irreconcilable differences.

The combatants in this battle of the sexes are Abby, a TV producer, and Mike (Gerard Butler), star of a late night public access show called The Ugly Truth. Back in the day, Mike would have been called a male chauvinist pig, but we'll leave the innocent pigs out of it. Mike's a lout and a blowhard who maintains that all men care about is sex, and that women ought to give up on romance, put on push-up bras, and shut their yaps. Abby disagrees. The two come to blows when Mike is brought on to spice up the ratings of Abby's failing morning talk show. Lo and behold, it works. Apparently the good people of Sacramento want to be yelled at by a big hairy apeman first thing in the morning, because they go for Mike and his Jell-o wrestling bimbos in a big way.

Abby, meanwhile, meets Colin (Eric Winter), a hunky doctor recently arrived in her apartment building, and proceeds to take Mike's advice on how to hook him. Why would a sensible woman accept advice about anything from a knuckle-dragging, butt-slapping dope like Mike? Obviously because they've made a wager: Abby gets the dreamy guy using Mike's method, or Mike quits her TV show. There follow shenanigans involving vibrating underwear, hot dogs and spilled beverages, and Mike-as-Cyrano relaying advice via two-way radio to a frantic and inept Abby. The twist, and I'm sure nobody saw it coming, is that Mike falls for Abby and Abby gets all confused about her feelings for Mike and/or Colin. The usual ad hoc complications and hijinks ensue, leading to dumb and senseless fights and breakups that merely go through the motions of textbook romantic comedy plotting. This is a cinematic battle of the sexes that destroys everything (comedy, romance, joy, hope) and then salts the earth when the fighting is finally over.

The Ugly Truth wanders from one pointless and unbelievable episode to another. There are several quirky supporting characters jumping up and down and vying for screen time with strenuous mugging. Director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) apparently instructed his cast to do everything bigger, louder, and kookier, since that is the general tone of The Ugly Truth. Heigl is particularly effortful in her madcappery, with lots of Cheshire Cat mugging (huge smile, big eyes), while Butler's job is to toss off sexual innuendos and be charmingly uncharming. Thing is, Mike and Abby are both so unhappy and unpleasant and clearly have such good reasons for disliking each other (I couldn't stand either one of them) that there is just no good reason for them to get together, except for the fact that they are two attractive people in close proximity, and because the screenplay (penned by Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith) says so. The Ugly Truth violates the first rule (the only rule, really) of romantic comedy (or romantic anything), which is that the audience has to love those crazy kids and want ever so much for them to fall into each other's arms and live happily ever after. Mike and Abby spread unhappiness wherever they go. They're good for a quickie, or maybe a friends with benefits kinda thing, but happily ever after? No way. They're not even happy now.

Neither was I, watching this movie, which trots out the standard stereotypes about horndogs with hearts of gold, and desperately lonely career gals, and then flogs those dead horses for all they're worth, which isn't much, and certainly isn't the price of admission.