Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Ugly Truth (Film Review)

This one's late arriving, as I was waiting for it to post elsewhere first...

The Ugly Truth

Stars Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, directed by Robert Luketic. 96 minutes. Rated R.

Men are from caves, but even smart and relatively enlightened women can learn to appreciate the lovable apes. Hell, it's practically a beauty's duty to love a beast. Ultimately, she stands to gain untold emotional, spiritual and, yes, physical satisfaction from the arrangement, no matter what it all looks like from the outside.

Those are the convoluted messages -- delivered by a trio of female screenwriters, no less -- of The Ugly Truth, a high-concept, low-payoff romantic comedy that seems to want to have it both ways. The slight and only fitfully entertaining movie knocks misogyny and stereotyping while simultaneously reveling in a steady stream of misogynistic behavior and stereotypes. The tightly wound, workaholic career girl who won't get what she wants until she makes herself over according to the specifications of a He Man? Check. The male chauvinist pig who's redeemed, and just in time, by his sensitive soul? Yep. Firm-bodied bikini babes wrestling in Jell-O? But of course.

Katherine Heigl, who last learned to love a lug in Knocked Up, is the cute but oddly repressed and dateless Abby Richter, producer of a Sacramento morning show; she spends early evenings going on blind dates, where she brings along lists of talking points. The show, and her life, are hopelessly shaken up when local cable-access host Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) brings his pointedly sexist and provocative ramblings to Abby's show, over her objections. For his very first segment, he manages to patch up the relationship between the show's married hosts, as played by the scenery-chewing John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines -- in no time flat, they go from hateful to horny.

Two or three convenient story turns later, and screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith (Legally Blonde) and Nicole Eastman have borrowed from Cyrano de Bergerac: Abby somehow decides that she needs Mike's relationship advice in order to win the heart of the model-pretty orthopedist next door (Eric Winter). So, earpiece in place, she sets out on dates with the doc, and speaks the words that Mike whispers in her ear. Complications, mostly unfunny, ensue. So does a wardrobe makeover -- from prim to slutty.

For good measure, director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) throws in an embarrassing moment at a major-league baseball game, and an orgasm scene in a restaurant that owes a thing or two to Meg Ryan's contortions in When Harry Met Sally -- this time, vibrating panties and a remote-control device figure into the fun. Heigl and Butler ("P.S. I Love You"), gifted and watchable actors both, give off occasional flashes of good chemistry; too bad they're defeated, time and again, by a decidedly soggy script.

Most annoyingly, The Ugly Truth, brandishing naughty words like weapons, masquerades as edgy fare, pretending to offer something new and illuminating to those audiences, you know, sophisticated enough to deal with corking great insights regarding the gender wars. The ugly truth is that Luketic's movie is about as fresh as the battle of the sexes, circa the '70s, and Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Can we handle it? Well, yeah, and we did, long ago. This film is the new twist?

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