A film review by Craig J. Koban July 31, 2009


2009, R, 95 mins.

Abby Richter: Katherine Heigl / Mike Chadway: Gerard Butler / Colin: Eric Winter / Larry: John Michael Higgins / Joy: Bree Turner / Stuart: Nick Searcy / Jim: Kevin Connolly / Georgia: Cheryl Hines / Elizabeth: Bonnie Somerville

Directed by Robert Luketic / Screenplay by Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith

THE UGLY TRUTH is a new romantic comedy that has a central premise that strains credulity throughout every one of its borderline insufferable 95 minutes:   

Katherine Heigl has absolutely no luck with men.  

None.  Nadda.  Ziltch.  

In fact, she is so ill-fated in terms of getting the opposite sex to like her that she forces herself to take the advice of a deeply backwards-minded, misogynistic alpha male to “teach” her on the art of seducing the man of her dreams.  The message of the film is simple:  intelligent, determined, independent, drop dead gorgeous, and career-minded women are nothing but naïve, childlike shrews that desperately need some taming by some foul-mouthed and oppressively sexist pig because, when it comes right down to it, these type of men explicitly know what all women want. 

THE UGLY TRUTH is certainly ugly – if not a bit odious – with its underlining story.  I guess it is made all the more cynical and deplorable in the sense that it represents yet another painful exercise in the rom-com genre pandering to its female audience members by having stories and themes that utterly condescend women in general (remember BRIDE WARS and HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, anyone?).  The audience I was with – made up largely of females – was howling with giddy and uninhibited laughter all throughout THE UGLY TRUTH, which left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.  I would like to think that women are smart enough to spot a ludicrous, predictable, and patronizing rom-com from a mile away, but this audience seemed to relish every walking minute of it.  

Ugly, indeed. 

What’s perhaps even more depressing is the film represents another low for its star Heigl, who seems to be truly going out of her way to erode her career high work in one of the best comedies of the last few years in KNOCKED UP.  What's shocking was the star’s scandalous comments regarding her participation in it during the wake of the film’s release, where she labeled it as “a little sexist” and went on to state that it portrayed women as “shrews" and as "humorless and uptight” while the male personas were likeable and goofy. 

Heigl followed up KNOCKED UP with the wretched and ham-invested 27 DRESSES, which certainly reflected her desire to play female characters that were likeable and goofy, but lamentably low on wit and intelligence.  Now she scores another low with THE UGLY TRUTH (she has also executive produced it), which now shows the ravishing and talented actress as a persona having a low self-efficacy, if not being a poor judge of good career projects.  It’s odd that she finds her role in KNOCKED UP – that of an empowered woman that is smarter and more sensitive than all of the dim-witted men around her – an affront to her gender, yet she participates in films like THE UGLY TRUTH that goes out of its way to have a largely chauvinist stance.  Ironically, films like KNOCKED UP were steps forwards, but 27 DRESSES and THE UGLY TRUTH are regrettably steps backwards for the star. 

Heigl plays Abby Richter, one of those "movie" women that does not occupy any normal plane of reality that I exist on: She’s luminously beautiful, well off, has a position of rather high authority at her day job, but – gosh darn it – she has serious problems finding a man to love her.  Sure.  Right.  Uh-huh.  She is a gorgeous bombshell, to be sure, but she is also an uptight control freak, so demanding and oppressive that - when she goes on a date early in the film that never once feels realistic – she actually hands over a sheet of talking points to her companion to spark conversation (would any sane woman do this in hopes of scoring with a man, especially if they were…say…Katherine Heigl?).  Anyway, Abby’s Sacramento news show is on the verge of cancellation because of poor ratings, that is until her fidgety and worrisome boss makes a Hail Mary chance by hiring Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) to host small segments on their news program. 

Mike is not a journalist: rather, he’s the host of an ultra-politically incorrect cable access show called "The Ugly Truth” that spouts out nightly diatribes about how woman are essentially sex toys that make every single wrong move in the battle of the sexes playbook to secure courting the men they desire.  Clearly, Abby finds Mike to be an abhorrent and classless S.O.B that does not belong on any respected news show (can you blame her?) , but when the rugged and dirty minded sex-talk guru starts the net gigantic ratings, Abby’s boss decides to make him a permanent fixture on the new show.  This angers Abby to no end, who shutters at the thought that this loathsome cretin is single handedly saving her show. 

Alas, in the la-la land of dim-witted rom-coms, Abby unavoidably seeks out the advice of the man she hates so that she can score with the man she wants.  She recently has met a hunky, GQ-looking orthopedic surgeon who happens to be her neighbour, Colin (Eric Winter, playing his role on bland and dull auto-pilot) in one of the most ridiculous meet-cutes in a long time: he finds her hanging upside down from a tree outside of his bathroom window (don’t ask).  Now, Abby really becomes smitten with Colin, but she of course can’t understand that she would have no problem whatsoever courting this man (because…she’s freakin’ Katherine Heigl).  She simply has no confidence in herself.  So, in the inane make-believe fantasy world that is this film, Abby decides to team up with her sworn enemy in Mike so that he can impart his wisdom on her to become the alluring bimbo/sexpot that Colin wants.   

How do women viewers buy into this dribble? 

There is not one second where I believed that Abby would have any issue with getting Colin to like her, not to mention that it’s teeth-gratingly stupid to believe that she would lower her standards to become a whoring tease at the advice of Mike.  But – sigh – she does, but there is a catch: If Mike’s womanly advice to her fails, he will abruptly quit the show.  She agrees to the terms and her “education” begins, which leads to some of the film’s most tiring and ludicrous montages.  Mike teaches Abby proper phone etiquette with men (like randomly hanging up on them and practicing willful deceit), not to mention that he takes her on a fashion shopping spree in order to show her what men really want woman to wear (which, in Mike’s lustful mind where he thinks only with his manhood region, involves low cut dresses that show ample cleavage and lots of leg).  Perhaps the most unbelievable moment in the film has Abby wearing a hidden microphone during her trip to the ball park with Colin so that Mike can “instruct” her on how to act, like the subtle (make that not-so-subtle) art of eating a foot long hotdog while making it look like you’re performing oral sex on it.  Hardy-har.

Only viewers with pea-sized brains would not be able to see this film’s trajectory:  Gee...I wonder if Abby will be able to win over Colin’s affections with Mike’s tortuously unstable advice?  Hmmm…I wonder if Abby will be so thankful that Mike’s plan worked that she will become more drawn to him as a friend and confidant?  Wow…I wonder if the horny, skirt-chasing troglodyte that is Mike will start to get weak in the knees and jealous of Abby’s flourishing relationship with Colin, so much so that he finds his outward and confident man-tastic façade crumbling before his eye?.  And…gee…I wonder if these two complete polar opposites will realize that they are an inseparable item and show themselves that they represent the best mutual medicine for the other? 

C’mon, no one really needs to stay to the obligatory pre-credit kiss to find out how the plot unfolds now, do you? 

If there is one positive thing that I would say about THE UGLY TRUTH then it would be that it appeases one basic tenant of all good rom-coms: it has two very likeable and charismatic lead actors that are easy to latch on to.  Heigl is a gifted actress for how she bridges the gap between fiery sultriness and childlike, giddy charm and whimsicality: she’s beyond easy on the eyes and has a good knack for both light and broad comedy.  Butler, who was so memorable as the fire and brimstone warrior with granite six pack in 300, shows that he is definitely leading man material: His Mike has an X-rated philosophy on woman and has ideals that most sane females would detest, but Butler nonetheless is very amusing in this man-child role that he infuses the rid blend of rugged macho posturing with buffoon-like simpleton.    

The problem is that these are two limitless appealing actors that generate easy-going chemistry are disappointingly wasted on this contrived, trite, and embarrassingly trivial rom-com.  It’s distressing to see gifted performers slum their way through characters that are not so much human beings as they are artificial cardboard cutouts lurching their way through one hackneyed situation to the next.  That, and THE UGLY TRUTH is feels desperately vulgar (its attempts to marry the more audience friendly, female-centric rom-com with that of the lewd, crude, and frat boy inspired sex comedy is a half baked conglomeration at best).  Perhaps most detestable is the notion that Heigl is THE UGLY TRUTH’s star and producer and she believed, in her heart of hearts, that this sexist excuse for a comedy – written by three woman, no less – represents a step forward in her career that she felt needed some forward momentum from the “shame” of playing a female “stereotype" in KNOCKED UP.  After enduring THE UGLY TRUTH one almost wants to grab Heigl and give her head a shake, seeing as few films are as shockingly low on ideas about what makes women tick as this one appears to be.  

The truth about THE UGLY TRUTH is that it does not have a kernel of it during its running time. 

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