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Dustin Putman

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The Ugly Truth  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Robert Luketic.
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Eric Winter, Bree Turner, Nick Searcy, Cheryl Hines, John Michael Higgins, Jesse D. Goins, Noah Matthews, Bonnie Somerville, John Sloman, Yvette Nicole Brown, Nate Corddry, Kevin Connolly.
2009 – 96 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for sexual content and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 22, 2009.
"The Ugly Truth" is a bland, rudderless romantic comedy with one defining element: its R rating allows for decidedly coarser language and sexual material. Save for some choice four letter words and a set-piece in which our lovely heroine wears vibrating briefs to a business dinner and reaches hair-tossing climax before she can escape to the restroom, the film is just about as disposable and predictable as the genre will allow. Leading actors Katherine Heigl (2008's "27 Dresses") and Gerard Butler (2007's "P.S. I Love You") are charismatic with the right material, but that right material eludes them here, in a gimmick-laden plot that dumbs down the characters while dusting off the moldiest of conflicts to put them through. No one—and that includes director Robert Luketic (2008's "21") and screenwriters Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (the latter two responsible for 2001's "Legally Blonde" and 2008's "The House Bunny," both far better)—escapes entirely unscathed.

Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is the unlucky-in-love producer of a Sacramento-based morning news program hosted by squabbling married couple Georgia (Cheryl Hines) and Larry (John Michael Higgins). The day after calling into a local access show and butting heads with the host, a misogynistic sex and relationship expert named Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), Abby is horrified to discover he has been hired to do a bi-weekly segment on her own show. Abby and Mike have trouble seeing eye to eye, but she starts to believe there may be some truth to his ways of thinking when he helps her to win a date with nice-guy doctor Colin (Eric Winter). In following Mike's advice, however, Abby changes herself—her personality, her looks—so much that she fears Colin is falling in love with a fake person that isn't really who she is.

Any viewer with half a brain will, indeed, realize that Colin is the thankless third wheel of "The Ugly Truth," the faux-love interest who is only on hand to bide time until protagonist Abby sees who she is really meant to be with. Eric Winter (2008's "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay") is a handsome actor who plays Colin like a real person rather than a stock figure or caricature, but it's all a lost cause. Colin is destined to be swept to the side as Abby and Mike argue their way toward loving each other, only popping up to complicate things until the foregone happy conclusion. When Abby accompanies Mike to L.A. after he is invited as a guest on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," the two bond over their preference for tap water (no joke), get jiggy on a nightclub dance floor, and then make out by the hotel elevators. Of course, Colin shows up just before Mike arrives at Abby's room to consummate their relationship, and of course Abby finds out upon returning to Sacramento that Mike has quit his job and gone to work on a local competitor's show.

Is it asking too much for Abby and Mike to be written with a little more intelligence? The screenplay doesn't give them enough credit, and the important things needed to be said in order to solve everybody's problems are put on the back burner as the film overextends itself by trying to hit the hour-and-a-half mark. Katherine Heigl is a pleasurable presence in whatever she does, and Gerard Butler is a ruggedly sexy everyman that both men and women will be able to connect to. Together, though, these two are kept on a low sizzle, their initial quick-fire sparring turning to sheer monotony for the viewer by the hot air balloon finale. Before this, Abby is too quick to alter herself for the benefit of a man, while Mike reveals that he is awfully inept in his personal life for someone who claims to have it all figured out. Furthermore, a subplot involving his fatherly relationship with teenage nephew Jonah (Noah Matthews) goes nowhere.

Perhaps it sounds as if "The Ugly Truth" is worse than it really is. Though pretty thin and overextended, the film is relatively painless until the inordinately dim-witted third act. The Sacramento locale is offbeat enough to be a breath of fresh air compared to the typical onslaught of Los Angeles- and Manhattan-based movie settings. If not exactly believable, some of Mike's shenanigans in advising Abby on her dates with Colin (e.g. feeding her what to say through an earpiece) are amusing in a "Cyrano de Bergerac"-cum-"Three's Company" sort of way. Ultimately, there's no surprise how things turn out, though the bigger question is what will happen to the stuck-in-their-ways Abby and Mike after the credits have rolled. "The Ugly Truth" doesn't bother to answer this—see 2009's far smarter, far more romantic "(500) Days of Summer" for that—instead happy to remain blissfully ignorant about the ways of love as it stays put on the mediocre straight-and-narrow.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman