The wonderful thing about Gerard Butler is that his puckish animal magnetism can almost carry a clunker like THE UGLY TRUTH. A putative romantic comedy about the fundamental differences between men and women, it reduces both genders to emotional cripples while failing to find any humor in the situation.
Katherine Heigl, an engaging enough actress, plays Abby, a television producer at a Sacramento affiliate with ratings issues. On the job, shes in cool control of the burgeoning chaos around her but, of course, shes a complete emotional wreck personally. And by personally, of course, is meant being able to find true love, and the desperation its causing her is anything but attractive. She brings talking points on dates, which is supposed to be funny but somehow isnt, and, horror of horrors, speaks her mind about what sort of beverage she prefers, which is supposed to peg her as controlling and difficult rather than someone who knows what she likes.
After another date that leads nowhere except to a discussion about the differences between bottled water and that which flows from the tap, Abby is brooding. Her cat, perhaps bored or just helping the hand of fate along, is playing with the televisions remote control. Suddenly on the screen is Mike (Butler), the host of a call-in public access show entitled The Ugly Truth, on which he explains that men are incapable of growth, change, or improvement. They want sex and if women want them, they need to hit both the gym and the trashy lingerie store. For reasons that only make sense in a script that requires her to do so in order to move the plot along, Abby calls in to vent her spleen and change his mind about his views. Like thats going to happen.
What does happen is that hes hired by her station manager to boost ratings on Abbys struggling show. What further happens is that hes a hit. And what further happens for more reasons that only make sense in a script that requires the plot points to keep moving forward, logic internal or otherwise be darned, Abby turns to Mike for The one who saved her while she was wearing nothing but a towel when she fell out of a tree. Thats about as clever as the action gets and its downhill from there. Theres the requisite slutty-esque makeover of Abby by Mike. Theres the requisite discussion of her sex life, or lack thereof. Theres the requisite bikini-clad twins wrestling in a wading pool full of gelatin.
Offensive to adult sensibility where it tries to be frothy, its neither raunchy enough for an audience hoping for soft-porn, nor witty enough for an audience seeking a sophisticated romance. It has, in a stunning bit of slight-of-hand, taken the worst aspects of both genres and married them together to no ones satisfaction. Hence the spectacle of Heigl having dinner with her new beau, her boss, network honchos, Mike, and Mikes gelatin twins, and inadvertently enjoying the vibrating panties that shes wearing. Theres another remote control involved, but thats not important. Nor is it particularly important why she decided to slip them on just before her date with the doctor. Nor even why she would find being gifted with them by Mike sweet. No, the real issue is why she would slip on a pair of black panties when she is wearing a white dress made of thin material and leave her home that way. No woman is that dumb, even if the film shes in is.
The script also pulls its punches when it comes to Mikes misogyny. Hes a troglodyte, violating the rules against sexual harassment in the workplace with cheery abandon, but hes a cuddly troglodyte, even when not dressed in a gorilla suit to show films of bonobo monkey making baby bonobo monkeys at 9am. That the station he works for would allow it might be a commentary on the coarsening of the culture at large, but that would be giving all concerned much too much credit.
THE UGLY TRUTH ends at a hot-air balloon festival and the metaphor of something gaudy, inflated and essentially empty is not without merit. The film itself, alas, isnt.