Robert Luketic’s The Ugly Truth may not be pretty, but it is certainly predictable. Oh, I’ve seen worse movies—and I don’t think it’s nearly as appallingly bad as its 15 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes might indicate—but I can’t call it good or anywhere near it. It’s the sort of movie I can actually imagine garnering some respectable laughter in a crowded theater, but it’s also the sort of movie where I have trouble imagining anyone remembering what they laughed at a couple hours later.
Here’s the pitch: Abby (Katherine Heigl) produces a lackluster news show that appears to be entirely staffed by wacky characters. Mike (Gerard Butler) has a public-access TV show, The Ugly Truth, where he basically paints men as terminally horny sex pigs that can only be bamboozled into relationships by nonthreatening women who let the none-too-bright male think he’s in charge. Abby runs afoul of Mike when her cat (insert feline euphemism joke here) steps on the remote control and hits his show. She’s so appalled that she calls his phone line—only to have him get the better of her. The next morning she learns that her perpetually beleaguered station manager (is there any other kind?), Stuart (Nick Searcy), has hired Mike and added his program to her lineup.
Of course, they hate each other—especially since he boosts the ratings like they’ve never been boosted. With tension in the air, Mike makes a bet with Abby. If she’ll follow his advice, he’ll help her snag her dream-man neighbor, Colin (TV actor Eric Winter). If it doesn’t work, Mike will resign. Naturally enough, it works exactly as planned. There’s this thing the studio publicists insist on calling “an unexpected result.” It’s the sort of unexpected result that happens when Christmas falls on December 25. It’s also the sort of thing that a witty script, spritely direction and/or chemistry between the leads can make work. The Ugly Truth lacks all three to one degree or another.
The screenplay has a bad case of Apatow-envy and expends the time that might have been profitably spent in search of truly witty banter on trying to be edgy with crude jokes and lots of swearing. The results are a little like watching a 15-year-old attempt to show you up. The direction is somewhere between fussy (what’s up with all that swirling camera business in the early scenes?) and the improbably lazy. I get that it was more practical to shoot the hot-air balloon scenes on a soundstage in front of a green screen. But really this looks only marginally better than Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in a balloon in 1939 in You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.
The big clunker, though, is the chemistry between Heigl and Butler. No amount of effort will create chemistry if it’s not there—and it’s not there. Heigl tries, and it shows. Butler tries, but seems not to. He gives a performance that’s much better than the movie deserves—and makes the movie seem better than it is—but he can’t generate sparks with his co-star regardless. Even an equally—possibly more—lame film, the recent The Proposal, had that going for it, and it overcame much that can’t be overcome here. And that’s the zither that cooks the goose. Rated R for sexual content and language.