Abby (Katherine Heigl) produces a morning news program in Sacramento. Abby is smart, successful and takes her job very seriously. But she is also very lonely, which is no surprise after we watch her on a blind date, citing the guy's insurance coverage and financial aspects. "I did a background check". One night, she flips channels, talking to her cat, and stops for a few moments on channel 83. She watches in horror as Mike (Gerard Butler) hosts a public access show called "The Ugly Truth" advising guys on how to get dates with women with information that is less than politically correct. The next morning, she is shocked to learn he has been hired by her boss to provide 'local color' and help boost the ratings of the morning news. Desperate to keep her job, Abby decides to give it a chance. As they get to know each other, Abby learns to loathe him even more. But she is also desperate to get a date with a hunky doctor who lives in her building (Eric Winter). When Mike finds this out, he makes a bet; if he can help her get a date with the doctor, she will welcome him to the show. If he fails, he will quit. You can probably write the rest of the story yourself from this point.
Directed by Robert Luketic ("Legally Blond"), "The Ugly Truth" doesn't have originality going for it. And it can't credit a refreshing lack of narrative contrivances for its success either. But it is a funny, frothy, perfectly forgettable date movie. In all likelihood, this film will make you laugh on your date and you will remember you had a good time. That's a good thing. But you probably won't remember a lot about this film. Except for one very memorable scene.
"The Ugly Truth" falls victim to almost everything "The Proposal" didn't. But it still works.
And the reason for that has to be the two leads. Katherine Heigl is a very pretty woman and I think what I like about her even more is that she seems to be a very pretty, normal sized woman. I could be wrong, but she doesn't appear to be emaciating herself in an attempt to wear size zero jeans. She is a woman with some natural curves and they look good on her, giving her a look similar to some of the movie stars of the thirties and forties. Add her signature blond hair color and she could probably play Judy Holliday in a film biopic. Gerard Butler isn't your typical drop-dead gorgeous himbo. He's good looking, sure, but with his shirt on, he more closely resembles about a million guys you could run into on the street. But his crooked smile, his facial hair and his accent give him an interesting appeal, making him sexier because he is a little rough around the edges.
Heigl also proves herself to be adept at comedy. After she gets embroiled in the bet with Mike, Abby reveals a secret and Mike is amazed. He talks about self-gratification and Abby immediately dismisses the notion. Mike can't believe it and soon a gift appears at her door. The whole sequence comes to a climax during a dinner with the hunky doctor and some network executives (don't ask). But this scene is easily one of the funniest I have seen on film in a long time. The set-up is long and involved, but Heigl makes us believe Abby would take the opportunity presented (and she makes the reason why just as believable). As the scene progresses, Heigl provides some hilarious reactions and gives Meg Ryan's performance in "When Harry Met Sally" a run for her money.
Butler's Mike is funny simply because he says truly outrageous things, shocking us into laughing. When his character starts to become more normal, he also becomes more routine and more boring. You have to know that when a film pits two people like Heigl and Butler against one another, they will inevitably fall in love. As Mike begins to realize his true feelings for Abby (which we already know at this point), he becomes quieter, more introspective and more normal. When this happens, he also blends into the background and it becomes almost impossible to pick him out from the crowd. Abby and Mike end up in Los Angeles and go to dinner at a Brazilian restaurant complete with dancing. He coaxes her onto the dance floor and as the camera concentrates on Heigl, Butler all but gets lost among the other dancers. There simply isn't anything else about his character to make him interesting or believable, anything to make him worthy of our time and trouble.
The husband and wife team who host the morning news program (played by Cheryl Hines ("The Larry David Show") and John Michael Higgins ("Evan Almighty", "The Yes Man")) are having marital problems. As soon as Mike enters the scene, he quickly realizes they are having problems and begins to work his magic on them, on camera, during the show. It is a funny idea, but they are pretty broad and make the film seem much more 'television sitcomy' than it might otherwise.
Every romantic comedy uses a certain number of contrivances to get the characters into the right place, to weave a story around them. The success of the movie depends on the filmmaker's skill to make these contrivances seem normal, or to disappear altogether. Robert Luketic has created some fun films ("Legally Blond") and some terrible films ("21", "Monster-In-Law "). But he isn't a good enough director to make things like this seem normal, natural and real. When Abby realizes she has no choice but to work with Mike, she tries to produce his segment, like she normally would, with some class. When this doesn't work, she throws in the towel and embraces his little surprises, including two bimbos in a plastic pool of Jell-O. Later, Abby agrees to let this guy coach her and help her land a date with a guy? Why? This moment stretches the boundaries too much. Yes, we see her on a regular date, a date she sets up for herself, a date she controls. But that doesn't necessarily equate to the leap of faith she takes when she asks him to help her out. And his instructions are impossibly stupid and vague, leading her to humiliate herself. Which is funny, if very degrading to her character. Also, the story sets up an important dinner between Mike, the network executives and Abby. But Abby doesn't know about it and set-s up a date with the hunky doctor. Soon, the doctor is running late and Mike and the boss show up at Abby's door insisting she attend the dinner. She refuses because of the date with the doctor. They insist he come along. This is the set-up to the best scene in the movie, the funniest, but it is also the funniest because Abby is trying so hard to not humiliate herself in front of everyone who is important in her life. Only Mike eventually learns what is going on and he watches everything with a wry smile. Because these contrivances are not handled well, the film seems too artificial, too sitcomy.
When we learn Mike lives with his sister and her son, he becomes a little more human. His nephew shows up at the station one day and meets Abby, who is shocked to learn Mike is part of the parental units looking after a pre-teen. But the character doesn't really add anything to the story and seems to be a timewaster. Or perhaps his scenes will appear on the DVD as "Extras". Either way, his character only points to the sloppy filmmaking that should have been handled differently by the director. But I'm not convinced Luketic has enough skill to handle such things.
"The Ugly Truth" is actually funny and will provide you with some laughs. I only wish the film were better, to make it more memorable.
I guess I am damning the film with faint praise.