Starring Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler. Directed by Robert Luketic. Rated R for sexual content and language. 97 minutes.
THE UGLY TRUTH is the latest example of that successful but often ugly hybrid: the cross between the romantic comedy and the fratboy movie. The former is about bringing two characters together even if – indeed, often when – they don’t realize it themselves. The fratboy movie consists of lots of snickering jokes about sex and other bodily functions.
Movies like “There’s Something About Mary” and “Knocked Up” are the models, but this one adds a new wrinkle. Of course the female lead is breathtakingly beautiful and exceptionally accomplished. Now, however, she’s also completely inept and needs the help of a man with the emotional maturity of a fifteen-year-old boy who just discovered dad’s secret cache of Playboy magazines. It’s hard to believe the script is attributed to three women, because this could send the Women’s Movement back sixty years.
Abby (Katherine Heigl) is the producer of a successful morning news show in Sacramento, California. The ratings are slipping, though, and so her boss brings in Mike (Gerard Butler), a friendly if loutish sort who had had a show on public access where he gave “advice” to the lovelorn. His advice consists of telling women that men are only interested in one thing, and that a woman’s job is to play to that. The one thing, of course, is not beer, but sex, and the R-rated dialogue leaves little to the imagination.
Abby resents Mike and his vulgar ways, but he’s a hit. This leads to the plot contrivance where Mike bets Abby he can help her win the heart of the hunky doctor next door. If she follows his advice and gets the guy, she will stop fighting with Mike on the job. If he fails, he’ll quit. One doesn’t have to take “RomCom 101” to figure out how this story is going to turn out. It’s the way it gets there that is sometimes funny but often downright piggish.
One of the supposed comic highlights is when Mike sends Abby vibrating undies, which she has on when she’s suddenly rushed to an important dinner. The controls slip out of her purse and are picked up by a young boy at the next table who keeps ramping it up. So, just like Meg Ryan in “What Harry Met Sally,” Heigl gets to act out a female orgasm in a restaurant. The difference is that when Ryan did it, the joke was on the guy. Here Heigl is the helpless victim, and we’re invited to laugh at her predicament.
There’s no question that Heigl is lovely to look at and has a flair for comedy, and that Butler is a comic foil (and not inconsiderable eye candy for the women in the audience). Yet there’s no getting around the fact that in spite of a scene where he gets to explain himself, “The Ugly Truth” simply recycles the same old lies about men being nothing more than lustful beasts and women who don’t play to that are failures and sexually uptight.
Is this really 2009?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.