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Published: Friday, 7/24/2009

Movie review: The Ugly Truth **1/2

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

There's nothing ugly about The Ugly Truth. Not with Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler in the lead roles.

But there's also nothing original about The Ugly Truth either. It's your standard romantic comedy that, like this summer's rom-com hit The Proposal, is blessed with two attractive actors who also generate a surprising amount of chemistry.

Are looks and chemistry enough to carry The Ugly Truth? Not quite. But it does make the movie fun at best, and tolerable at worst.

As with most romantic comedies, The Ugly Truth's set-up is pretty silly.

Heigl plays Abby, producer of a Sacramento morning TV show with floundering ratings - which happens to reflect her love life. Heigl is a know-it-all control freak - traits that don't endear her to men. One night, after a particularly miserable date, she stumbles onto a male-centric cable access show, The Ugly Truth. The show's host, Mike (Butler), is borderline misogynistic in his treatment of a female caller, which prompts Abby to call in to the show. The two proceed to argue about her definition of the perfect man: One who is not threatened by Abby and her need to control situations, likes dogs, but is really a cat person and gets up after her on Sundays - all traits Mike contends are impossible to find in a man and explain why she is alone. As plot contrivances would have it, Mike is hired by Abby's boss the next day to join the morning show in an effort to boost ratings. Abby and her new male nemesis are forced to work together.

Things are predictably awkward at first, including Mike's on-air counseling of the married morning-show anchors, Georgia (Cheryl Hines) and Larry (John Michael Higgins), who are no longer sleeping together. Their rekindled romance becomes a running gag throughout the movie.

But when Abby blows a chance encounter with dreamy next-door neighbor Colin (Eric Winter), a doctor no less, she turns to Mike for help in landing her perfect catch. Borrowing several pages from the Roxanne script, Mike advises Abby on what to say, what to do, and how to dress. And in a scene stolen from When Harry Met Sally, vibrating underwear that Mike gives to Abby results in a comical dinner meeting.

But Mike's not the sex-obsessed, women-as-objects "man whore" Abby thinks he is, and he secretly harbors feelings for his producer, even though he's certain she's interested only in Colin. Naturally, this being a romantic-comedy, Abby develops feelings for Mike, too.

Still, you would think a romantic comedy written by three women would be a little smarter and take more chances. But Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith stick to the tried-and-true formula with The Ugly Truth, including the movie's predictable outcome. Such a cautious approach will probably pay off at the box office this weekend, but the movie's success will not be due to its story, but its talent.

Heigl, of Grey's Anatomy, already demonstrated her considerable comedic chops in 2007's Knocked Up. While The Ugly Truth's script is nowhere near as clever as Knocked Up's, Heigl proves herself to be one of the best comic actresses going with her handling of a broad mix of physical and verbal gags. She can also deliver a salty line like few actresses. Heigl's aforementioned scene in the restaurant, while not destined for When Harry Met Sally classic-scene status - especially lacking the zing of a quotable punchline - may prove to be the most memorable of any comedy this summer.

Butler, best known as the shirtless King Leonidas in 300, already has demonstrated his ability to deliver epic speeches; now he shows his skill at delivering a joke.

Oddly enough, it's not the 39-and-counting Butler who's given the movie's big "shirt-off" moment. That job goes to the 33-year-old Winter.

Given Butler's rabid female fan base after 300 - many of whom will undoubtedly see this movie because of him - his decision to keep his shirt on may come as a surprise. But that's about the only thing unexpected in The Ugly Truth.

Contact Kirk Baird at:

kbaird@theblade.com

or 419-724-6734.



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