The new romantic comedy The Ugly Truth is ugly all right, but there isn’t a whisper of truth anywhere in it. There isn’t a recognizable human being in sight either. Katherine Heigl plays an uptight, control-freak television producer who is in a losing battle with ratings on her morning show. Her boss then hires a crass, outspoken sexist host (Gerard Butler) of a local cable program called The Ugly Truth to spice up the show and jumpstart the numbers. Naturally, the two hate each other, until he starts giving her advice on how to date men (in particular a hunk next door who I could have sworn was gay). What we discover (to no one’s surprise) is that they are actually attracted to each other. He melts her cold heart while she uncovers a sensitive streak in her slobby star (who resembles an even lower-life Dane Cook).
One of the reasons why the romantic comedy was popular and fresh in the '30s and ‘40s was that sex was still something mysterious and suggestive. In Ernst Lubitsch pictures like The Shop Around the Corner, where James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan were also sparring partners, the writing was crisp and their hidden attraction had an erotic allure. The Ugly Truth resorts to a number of explicitly crass sex jokes so that, by the end, we can see that they are really nice and bland middle-class romantic partners. There are no erotic possibilities in the material because nothing is hidden.
Director Robert Luketic (Monster-In-Law) has all the subtlety of a chainsaw when it comes to presenting a gag. For example, the electric panties Heigl inadvertently wears to a business dinner end up lamely resembling the implausible orgasm gag in When Harry Met Sally. But perhaps the bigger mystery raised here is why does the beautiful Katherine Heigl always end up playing women who can’t get decent dates? In Knocked Up, Judd Apatow suggests that her only hope is in the chubby stoner Seth Rogan. Gerard Butler is an even worse choice because not only is he not funny, or charming, he’s barely able to create a believable character. (As with Tom Cruise’s equally baffling misogynist in Magnolia, you have to wonder how men will end up benefiting by their dating advice.) The Ugly Truth is about as fresh as an R-rated sit-com that’s been sitting way too long in moth balls.