The Ugly Truth -- Film Review

In the past year, movies aimed primarily at women -- including "Sex and the City," "He's Just Not That Into You" and "The Proposal" -- have scored at the boxoffice, demonstrating the potency of an underserved audience as well as the value of counterprogramming. The latest chick flick, "The Ugly Truth," may not scale the boxoffice heights achieved by some of these films. But with clever appeal to the guys as well as the girls, it seems likely to become a medium-size hit for Columbia. Robert Luketic directed two other successful female-oriented comedies, "Legally Blonde" and "Monster-in-Law," and while this film is unfortunately closer in quality to the latter than the former, it has just enough laughs to squeak by.

"Truth" hopes to add a raunchier spin to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies, such as "Pillow Talk" and "Lover Come Back," which focused on two professional rivals who hate each other at first sight and only gradually recognize the attraction simmering beneath their hostility. Katherine Heigl plays Abby, the producer of a morning TV show in Sacramento that is struggling in the ratings. The station manager decides to add a new face to the mix -- Mike (Gerard Butler), a late-night cable TV personality who has won notoriety for his blunt commentaries on why lovesick women don't understand men's animal needs. Abby detests everything that the macho Mike represents, but she is forced to work with him when his segment called "The Ugly Truth" becomes a hit with viewers. Along the way, she realizes that her own love life could use some improvement, and maybe Mike's insights into the male psyche can help her to land the handsome doctor (Eric Winter) who lives next door. It takes a while for her to perceive that her true soulmate is sitting right across the TV console.

The script by Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith (the latter two also wrote "Legally Blonde") is wildly uneven. The best scenes are those in which Mike coaches Abby on how to inflame the doctor's interest, and she grudgingly comes to appreciate his savvy intuitions. On the other hand, the TV broadcasts are way too crude; even in a time of relaxed standards, it's hard to believe that Mike's sexually explicit rants would ever make it onto a network newscast. The big gross-out scene, in which Abby wrestles with a vibrator, also reeks of desperation.

The movie wastes an excellent supporting cast. John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines have promising roles as the married, perpetually squabbling anchors, but they don't get enough opportunity to demonstrate their comic chops. Kevin Connolly ("Entourage") has a too-brief scene as one of Abby's hapless blind dates. Only Bree Turner as Abby's ever-patient assistant gets a chance to shine.

A romantic comedy depends, of course, on the chemistry between the leads, and here the film is more successful. Both Heigl and Butler find the appeal in very flawed characters. It has been said that every memorable romantic movie requires a scene where the lovers dance together, and Luketic has staged an effervescent dance for the stars. Unfortunately, the director fails to do much with the setting. Sacramento is a pallid presence, indistinguishable from Peoria or Toledo. Even though the picture sputters and stumbles, it arrives at the ending that audiences crave.