In the spirit of if you can't say something nice, don't say it at all, let me begin my review of The Ugly Truth with this. After so many screen waifs and wraiths, it's invigorating to see the womanly Katherine Heigl and the manly Gerard Butler together on screen.
Still, I have to ask: Why did these most convivial of actors, the very definition of va-va-voom and hubba-hubba, commit themselves to a throwback battle-of-the-sexes comedy that wasn't so funny in the 1950s and is even less so now?
Not to put too fine a point on it, though the actors flaunt their formidable biology, they don't exhibit much chemistry in this one about the career woman and the caveman who falls for her while giving her dating advice.
The Ugly Truth is Heigl's third feature film in a row as a career woman whose personal life is a casualty of her professional ambition. She plays Abby Richter, über-efficient producer of a morning show in Sacramento, where she conducts full background checks on the show's guests and her own blind dates. No fewer than three times does a fellow character describe Abby, whose hair is as tightly wound as her personality, as a "control freak."
No surprise, then, that the station manager hires a superfreak to shake things up. That would be Mike Chadway (Butler), host of the cable-access program The Awful Truth, where he purveys tough-love sex advice to women.
"If you want a relationship, get on a StairMaster!" exhorts Mike. Men may know everything about lust and manipulation, he says, but they are incapable of growth or progress. He counsels his listeners that getting hitched isn't on the to-do list of most men because all marriage is about is social pressure and status.
To the surprise of no one who has been force-fed the opposites-attract plotline since infancy, Abby and Mike are mutually intrigued. But Abby hides it because she needs to prove to Mike that the surgeon next door is an evolved male who wants more from a woman than the full Lewinsky. And Mike hides it because he has bet Abby his job that if she follows his advice, the surgeon will be smitten.
Mike's counsel is pretty much the sort given by Justin Long in He's Just Not That Into You, only blunter. In essence: Dress like a slut, think like a man, and play hard-to-get.
Director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) directs with the subtlety of a mallet. Screenwriters Nicole Eastman and the Blonde team of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith provide dialogue that has the propriety of the locker room.
The obligatory scene where the control freak loses control is indicative of the movie's how-low-can-you-go bid for laughs.
It involves a pair of vibrator-embedded panties inadvertently worn to a business dinner. As I watched Heigl womanfully clowning her way through this sequence, I sank in my seat in a defensive crouch.
Here's hoping that Heigl's next movie script, unlike the last three, will not involve her character's humiliation by (future) boyfriend and bosses. Here's hoping that Butler, who has a sure comic touch, can find better material than this and P.S. I Love You.
And here's hoping that this unfunny comedy doesn't set both sexes back by 50 years.