At some point, somebody in Hollywood decided that all romantic comedies would involve a meeting between subject A, who is neurotic and tightly-wound, and subject B, who is refreshingly unrestrained and free-spirited. (Somewhere, there’s an office with a complete, annotated deconstruction of When Harry Met Sally pinned to the walls.) Rather than finding new variations on the formula, however, Hollywood simply makes the subjects more so, i.e., more neurotic and more unrestrained. Thus we have The Ugly Truth, an absolutely awful film that features an expert on human relationships, even though it’s patently clear the filmmakers are completely dim on the subject.
Katherine Heigl (following her similarly awful 27 Dresses) stars as Abby Richter, a producer in charge of a fluffy Good Morning America-type news show. Due to her extreme control-freak nature, the show has faltering ratings. One night, she stumbles upon a cable access show, The Ugly Truth, hosted by vulgar loose cannon Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler). The next day, much to Abby’s protest, Mike is hired to pep up Abby’s dull show. The “twist” comes when Abby falls for her handsome, bland neighbor (Eric Winter) and Mike helps her win his attention, Cyrano-style.
Throw in a couple of highly stupid slapstick scenes, including the old “cat stuck in a tree” routine and—yes—a vibrating pair of undies with a missing remote control, and round it out with a quirky “best friend” character and a cute kid, and you’ve got one huge exercise in callous calculation. A few years ago, Hitch tried this same dating-advice, physician-heal-thyself theme, and it worked, thanks to the free reign given the performers. Here, director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, 21) aims for fast-paced hysterics, and sucks out most of the wiggle room. Butler’s performance needed a lighter touch, and the lovely/nerdy Heigl only finds her footing in the film’s final third.
Faring much better are Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins as married, bickering co-anchors, who provide the film’s single laugh. The rhythms of their banter are so interestingly off-kilter, it could only have been improvised. Nothing else in the movie is so daring, or so human.