Friday, July 24, 2009

Film review: 'Ugly Truth' is rom-com by the numbers

Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler in The Ugly Truth.

By Hap Erstein

The ugly truth about the new romantic comedy The Ugly Truth is that it wastes a talented cast on a formulaic story that audiences are either going to be way ahead of or shaking their heads in disbelief over.

Like The Proposal, the Sandra Bullock vehicle that has proven inexplicably popular, this is another tale of a savvy, professionally successful woman who suddenly turns stupid when it comes to matters of romance.

Katherine Heigl, so refreshingly funny in Knocked Up, plays the inconsistently written Abby Richter, a control-obsessed television news producer for a Sacramento station whose show is scoring feeble ratings numbers. So against her wishes, Abby’s boss hires Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), a cable access provocateur who delivers “the ugly truth,” that men only care about women’s looks and how quickly they can get them into bed.

Of course, this earth-shattering wisdom makes him the toast of Sacramento and, of course, it is not long before Abby is asking Mike for dating advice. While the latter is hard to swallow, it is no more far-fetched than the fact that the gorgeous Heigl’s character needs help getting dates in the first place.

Fortunately, screenwriters Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith (the last two are veterans of Legally Blonde) help her out by having a good-looking, eligible, heterosexual doctor move into an adjacent apartment in her complex. But wouldn’t you know it, after initial hatred, she finds herself falling in love instead with Neanderthal Mike, who, wouldn’t you know it, has untapped wells of sensitivity.

Director Robert Luketic (also of Legally Blonde notoriety) does not have the skill of a Judd Apatow, who got away with a lot of crude humor in Knocked Up, but couched it in a story where we actually care about the characters. The Ugly Truth’s contribution to cinema history is a scene in which Abby wears a remote-control vibrator to an important dinner with network bigwigs and -- wait for it -- a young kid at the next table gets a hold of the clicker. Even Apatow could not make that one funny.

Heigl remains appealing, even if her character has only two contrasting modes -- smart and humorless or gullible and inane. The surprise is Butler (Phantom of the Opera, 300), who shows an unexpected facility for light comedy. On the other hand, all but wasted are the deft John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines as married co-anchors at the station.

Granted it is hard to break out of the rom-com formula. To see it done and done well, catch next week’s (500) Days of Summer. For the moment, if you are willing to settle for by-the-numbers writing and direction, The Ugly Truth is ready to fill that bill.

THE UGLY TRUTH. Director: Robert Luketic; Studio: Sony Pictures; Starring: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, John Michael Higgins, Cheryl Hines; Rated: R; Opening: Today; Venues: Most commercial houses

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