July 22, 2009

Ugly Truth, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Ugly Truth, The

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-07-24

Running Length:

1:32

MPAA Classification:

R (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Brief Nudity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2:35:1

Cast:

Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Bree Turner, Eric Winter, Nick Searcy, Cheryl Hines, John Michael Higgins

Director:

Robert Luketic

Screenplay:

Nicole Eastman and Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith

Cinematography:

Russell Carpenter

Music:

Aaron Zigman

U.S. Distributor:

Columbia Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Hollywood, it seems, has lost the knack of how to make a good romantic comedy. The best two such films of 2009, Adventureland and (500) Days of Summer, have come down the indie trail. The major studios are unwilling to fund any production that doesn't adhere to a rom-com formula that is becoming tired more as a result of misuse than overuse. These movies still sell a fantasy but it has become more a case of putting together two attractive individuals and telling the audience they're falling in love than taking the time to develop interesting characters and build the romance. The Ugly Truth is a perfect example of the former approach. The only thing that differentiates it from far too many other uninspired rom-coms is that some of the material is funny and there is an occasional edge to the repartee. Beyond that, however, it's a cookie-cutter movie, and the cookies are pretty stale.

A couple of years ago, the pairing of Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler in a mainstream romantic comedy would have been deemed "daring." Since then, however, King Leonidas and Izzie Stevens have been bulking up their credibility in the genre, with Butler appearing opposite Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You and Heigl headlining Knocked Up and 27 Dresses. With those titles under their belts, they're as safe choices as Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey. They're both photogenic and, if Butler's American accent slips from time-to-time, who really cares? Their chemistry is hit-and-miss, but I can't help wonder if this is more symptomatic of problems with the direction of Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) and the weaknesses in the screenplay. When they're given a full scene in which to interact, there's something there, but those moments are few and far between. Since this is a romantic comedy and they are the leads, it's a given they will fall in love, so why bother showing it?

Abby Richter (Heigl) is the uptight, anal retentive producer for a Sacremento morning TV show that's on the verge of being canceled due to poor ratings. Desperate for anything that will get viewers interested, the station manager (Nick Searcy) hires Mike Chadway (Butler), the crass, un-PC host of the cable access "advice show," The Ugly Truth. Abby thinks Mike is full of B.S. and makes her opinion clear, but he's an immediate sensation. Meanwhile, she's obsessing about how to capture the attention of her hunky new neighbor, Colin (Eric Winter). Mike proposes a deal: he'll offer his insights into the male psyche and teach her how to catch Colin if she'll agree to work with him. If he fails in helping Abby to hook her "perfect man," he'll quit. She agrees and the courtship begins. Of course, it quickly becomes clear that Abby is really attracted to Mike, and Mike is re-thinking his lust-over-love philosophy as a result of Abby. You don't need to see the movie to know how it ends.

One thing The Ugly Truth has going for it is that, unlike many romantic comedies, this one is actually funny - not consistently, but there are enough laughter-inducing scenes to keep things from becoming too tedious. Much of the humor is of the sex farce variety, with some of it (like a sequence involving vibrating underwear) falling into the Benny Hill school of funny bone tickling. For the most part, The Ugly Truth is PG-13 material (with the only nudity being a male butt), but some profanity and a few descriptive sex terms push it over the line into the realm of the soft R, which makes no sense from a marketing standpoint. (But that's another story.) The Ugly Truth feels like it started as a tame romantic comedy before someone decided to graft a few Sex and the City elements onto it.

The Ugly Truth is as review-proof in its own way as any teen-oriented summer blockbuster. It's a neatly packaged product that comes with all the consumer friendly safety labels. The comedy, as sophomoric as it often is, relieves some of the boredom of the generic love story, which might have been more interesting if it had followed up on the bits of The Taming of the Shrew, Pygmalion, and Cyrano De Bergerac that it toys with. Admittedly, mentioning those three titles makes The Ugly Truth sound more interesting than it is because they're ultimately little more than window dressing. The movie is more like a re-make than something new, but many viewers find comfort in the familiar, and this is for them. For my part, if I want to re-visit this formula, I'll head for the DVD shelf, where better interpretations of the same basic story exist.

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