The Ugly Truth (2009)
96 min., rated R.
Grade: C +
Look at that, another big-studio, commercial Hollywood romantic-comedy where animosity turns to love by story's end. We get it, "The Ugly Truth" is a meet-hate, opposites-attract movie! Katherine Heigl is Abby, a barking, neurotic, type-A TV producer from Sacramento who can't get guys because she obsessively, oh so desperately makes background checks on her first dates and scares them away. Her morning show struggles with ratings, so her boss hires the loutish, tell-it-like-it-is local cable-access host, Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler). She is repulsed by the man-whore Mike, but he is kind've intrigued by spazzy Abby's romantic challenges. Since he thinks he knows what women want and how guys operate, Mike gives her his chauvinistic advice to woo her hunky, next-door neighbor doctor (Eric Winter, who plays an actual person and looks good in a towel), like hang up on his phone calls and make him wait and suffer. Mike even plays her Cyrano de Bergerac, feeding Abby lines through an ear piece, like telling her to eat a hot dog suggestively at a baseball game. Who's Abby going to wind up with? Will Mike share Abby's preference for tap water rather than $7 bottled H20? This is far from Doris Day and Rock Hudson screwball charm.
The movie is sitcom-plastic and prefabricated with predictability, but as directed by Aussie Robert Luketic ("Legally Blonde"), it's also prankish and crassly enjoyable to be kind of fun. An R-rated battle-of-the-sexes rom-com for our times, it has likable stars feeding off dirty dialogue sharp to the taste about orgasms and masturbation. Ruggedly sexy Butler has enough charisma to manage a husky, relaxed charm even out of the Neanderthal Mike. The criticizing, control-freak Abby fares less, though it helps she's played by the ever-appealing Heigl, who looks tan and gorgeously glossy here in bright lighting. But the actress forces the shrill antics on a little too much like a bouncy cartoon and never sits still enough for us to find her lovable.
At least she shares some sexual heat with her male lead that you can tell they want to jump each other's bones. There is a funny business dinner scene where Abby wears a pair of remote-controlled vibrating panties—a gift from Mike—and the remote gets into the wrong hands and pushed to “ecstasy” mode, leaving her too orgasmic for words to get to the restroom before her climax. All the gag is missing is a better punchline (“Gotta love her enthusiasm, right?”), like Meg Ryan's classic Big 'O' deli scene in "When Harry Met Sally." Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins also get some laughs but are underused as a feuding, married news-anchor team.
You wish the three pandering, women writers would've broken formula by making Abby and Mike just friends or keeping them as bickering co-workers, rather than postponing the obvious and reverting to fossilized conventions by the final third for some public i-love-yous in a greenscreen-fake hot-air balloon (!). But what's done is done. You want the ugly truth? "The Ugly Truth" isn't so ugly and not extremely truthful, but with this likable kind of star power, it's sometimes fizzy and not half bad for a genre much abused of late.