© 2009 Ray Wong
There's no doubt The Ugly Truth is based on the bestseller Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. And there's no doubt the three female writers are going for Judd Apatow's market. With an exception: they try to tell it from a female's perspective, albeit just as raunchy.
Abby (Katherine Heigl) is a successful TV morning show producer in Sacramento, CA, whose personal life is rather lacking not because she's unattractive. In fact, she's a very attractive woman, but she's a control freak. She wants everything the way she wants it, including the "perfect guy" she will someday marry. She has a whole checklist of attributes and, of course, unlike her show, she has a hard time controlling whom she meets and falls for.
Enters the host of a new show segment called The Ugly Truth: Mike (Gerard Butler). He's a hyper-sexed, coarse, vulgar, and almost-brutally honest guy who tells women what men really want as he sees it. In his view, men only look for one thing, and women are looking for great relationships in all the wrong places. Even though Abby thinks Mike is an unrefined, repulsive man-whore, and that he's wrong about men and women and relationships, he becomes a hugh success for the show and Abby has no choice but to keep him.
When Abby meets a handsome, perfect doctor Colin (Eric Winter), she is doing all the wrong things trying to catch his eyes. Then Mike comes to the rescue and as much as she hates to admit it, he's right. Everything Mike tells her to do results in Colin falling deeper for her. Things can't be any better, until Mike is wooed by the network in San Francisco. Abby must try to convince Mike to stay for the show, but Mike seems to have something else on his mind...
Katherine Heigl (27 Dresses) seems to be positioning herself as the new queen of raunchy romantic comedies. She's done a good job, here, juggling between being neurotic, sensible, sweet, lonely, cute, sexy, and controlling. There are some hilariously embarrassing and humiliating scenes and Heigl passes with flying colors. That said, the character seems so unlikely because of Heigl's looks and the fact that she doesn't come across as a bitch.
Gerard Butler (P.S. I Love You) also seems to be positioning himself as a romcom hero, shedding his Spartan loincloth (and physique, apparently). Charming and charismatic, Butler embodies the ideal of masculinity... well, a bit on the alpha male side. Spotting a beard, Butler does appear a bit rough and out of shape, not exactly the type of romantic hero we tend to expect (then again, actors like Seth Rogen has paved the way). But I suppose that's the point -- he's an unlikely love interest for someone high maintenance like Abby.
The supporting cast provides interesting and funny performances. Bree Turner (Just My Luck) is cute as a button as Abby's assistant. She doesn't have much to do, though. It would have been better if she'd acted as Abby's voice of conscience. Eric Winter (Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay) is a little bland as the perfect guy, kind of like a Ken doll; also, he looks more like a model than a doctor, and gives off a "gay" vibe. Veteran comedians Cheryl Hines (Labor Pains) and John Michael Higgins (Fired Up) have a lot of fun playing the self-absorbed hosts of the morning show.
Written by a trio of women -- Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah (The House Bunny), and Kirsten Smith (The House Bunny) -- the screenplay is surprisingly dirty (and in a good way). As it is Eastman's first screenplay, it does seem like it's been "doctored" by McCullah and Smith and the seams do show at times. While the situations are interesting and the jokes are at times hilarious, the story works too hard and lacks credibility. I can buy the reasons why Mike is the way he is, but Abby is another matter. Her neurosis and controlling personality appear to be on the surface. There's no indication of how many serious relationships she's had, and it's hard to believe a woman like her would have troubles finding someone. And Mike is supposed to be a softie with a bad-boy exterior, but there's not a whole lot of growth for him except for falling in love with a neurotic, control-freak woman. I guess that's progress for men, who are not supposed to be "complicated."
Abby is also supposed to be so good at her job, but a lot of times she just comes off as incompetent and passive. She's often jostled around by her boss and Mike. There are many situations at the TV station that border on ridiculous (good for comedy, but bad for credibility). It's supposed to be written by women from women's perspective, but the story comes off as pro-men (Mike gets all the chicks, including Abby at the end, by being totally himself), as if there really is something wrong with women going after what they want.
Heigl and Butler do have good chemistry, although it's hard to believe two attractive people could become such buddies, so the ending is way too predictable; then again, it's a romantic comedy, so what do we expect? Still, as a comedy, it has some really good laughs, and moments that make us cringe for the characters.
Director Robert Luketic (21) is skillful and workmanlike. The camera work is fine, and the pacing is spot on. The production is handsome, if a bit run of the mill. Luketic also keeps his focus on the hero and heroine, thus streamlining the story and keeping the audiences invested in the two leads.
The Ugly Truth starts off as an interesting premise to examine the dynamics between men and women, and perhaps a deeper examination of romantic relationships. However, it quickly turns into a series of setups just to humiliate and poke fun at women who look for love in the wrong places. There's enough sex jokes and funny bits to keep us entertained and amused. But as a commentary on relationships, it fails as it descends not so shamelessly into the mold of a standard romance that tests our suspension of disbelief. Now, that's an ugly truth.
Stars: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Bree Turner, Eric Winter, Cheryl Hines, John Michael Higgins
Director: Robert Luketic
Writers: Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah, Kirsten Smith
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.5 out of 10