As I was watching what I thought would be a chick flick, something funny happened: it turned into a dick flick–which is to say, more male fantasy than female romance. In romantic comedies, opposites are supposed to attract, but “The Ugly Truth” really does get ugly. We’re supposed to believe that a sophisticated, beautiful woman from a nice upper-class neighborhood in Venus can meet a crude and somewhat slovenly man who lives somewhere on Mars (probably near a pig farm, judging from his behavior) and that she can actually go for this guy. Sure, Republican political consultant Mary Matalin married her Democratic rival, James Carville, but what happens in this film by Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde,” “21”) is more like Jane Fonda falling for Rush Limbaugh. It’s in the “when pigs fly” category.
The only thing more surprising than the outrageous premise is that the screenplay was written by three women: Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith. Newcomer Eastman had the idea, while Lutz and Smith had the track record (“Legally Blonde,” “Ella Enchanted”). While the writing is actually pretty decent and the two stars shine, nothing can overcompensate for a concept that’s as fatally flawed as an Edsel.
Katherine Heigl (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Knocked Up”) stars as Abby, a TV producer whose news show is suddenly invaded by an abrasive, Limbaugh-style commentator because her boss wanted to pick up a few ratings points. Naturally, this guy–who debuts by putting married-but-estranged news anchors on the spot by doing a Budweiser commercial version of Dr. Phil–becomes a big hit. The public, as ratings constantly attest, has no taste. They go for this foul-mouthed sexist lout, apparently lovin’ it that he espouses the stereotype that men do all their thinking below the waist. Some do, of course, but just as not everyone in the NBA has a tattoo, there are plenty of guys who debunk the myth. Or cliché. Let’s call it what it is.
So what happens when Abby meets her dream man, a doctor (Eric Winter) who makes her heart-rate go up? This woman, who’s savvy enough to have made it in a tough business like television, goes gelatinous. This gorgeous woman needs help finding a man, and who’s there to fill her head full of Mars-zipan ideas? None other than the old love doctor himself, Mike (Gerard Butler, “300”). Before we can even articulate in our minds a question that would ask why in the @#!*** a smart woman like Amy would trust someone she despises with her romantic life, the plot is already lurching forward. You watch, thinking, Oh, come on, they’re not REALLY going to get together, are they? When the plot takes a Cyrano de Bergerac turn and Mike feeds her the lines to entice her doctor-of-choice (Eric Winter), it’s hard to imagine–like Oprah turning vegetarian.
“The Ugly Truth” is rated R for sexual content and language, and I should say right now that if the “f-word” makes you uncomfortable, you’re going be squirming all through this film. “You’re all about comfort and efficiency,” Mike scoffs. “What’s wrong with comfort and efficiency?” Abby counters. “Nothing, except no one wants to f— it.” And when Abby is “wired” for her date and this Bozo concludes that the doctor of her dreams isn’t responding, he coaches, “Now say goodnight and stick your tits out.” At some point Abby quips, “I love how you think every man is as perverse as you are,” to which Mike responds, “Oh, I don’t think. I know.” Mike has a whole set of “rules” that have become part of his media sex-guru routine, like “Rule No. 4: Never talk about your problems, because men don’t really listen or care.” (“Some men care!”) “No, some men pretend to care. When we ask how you’re doing, it’s just guy code for ‘let me stick my dick in your ass.'” Yeah, right. I know that’s exactly what I mean when I say that.
You can’t call what Heigl and Butler have “chemistry,” because they grate on each other for most of the movie. But they both nail their characters, improbable as they are, and they squeeze more out of some scenes than you suspect was there on the page. They’re surrounded by a decent supporting cast that includes Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), who’s no stranger to deadpan reactions. But half of this film is overly familiar and clichéd, while the other half is outrageously unbelievable, and that poses a challenge for everyone who’s in front of the camera.
What “The Ugly Truth” has going for it isn’t truth at all, because what’s said or implied is more preposterous than anything. It’s the performances and, yes, some zippy banter that make this the kind of movie where, if it had come on the late show, you’d still lie there watching, rather than getting up to shut off the TV and go to bed. That’s my ugly truth.
It’s not Murphy’s Law, but there’s got to be some unknown film editor somewhere who said something like, “The worst movies always have the best production values.” In 1080p, “The Ugly Truth” looks f–ing good. Sorry, Mike just coached me to say that. But the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer left no residue, and all of the values and levels are perfect: strong blacks, natural skintones, well-saturated colors, and a pleasing 3-dimensionality that makes some of these stereotypes stand up like one of those pop-up books. “The Ugly Truth” is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
What can I say? The audio is also exceptional, with a robust English, French, or Portuguese DTS-HD MA 5.1 that really provides a nice platform for an energetic soundtrack that includes tunes from Katy Perry, Rick Krive, Daniel May, Nikka Costa, Flo Rida, and Los Pinguos. The bass is rich and full-bodied (I know, sounds like a beer-Mike, stop feeding me lines!) and there’s a nice clean feel to the dialogue. Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
There’s a commentary track for this title, but not a full one. Luketic and his producer only have something to say for 10 of the scenes, and what they have to say is pretty average and expected. People who like this film more than I did will enjoy six deleted scenes and two alternate endings that run for just over 20 minutes, and may even like listening to the cast talk up the Venus/Mars stance that this film takes in a 13-minute talking-heads-and-clips fest. Then there’s “The Art of Laughter,” which tries to tell us why what we just saw is funnier than I thought it was. That feature runs 16 minutes.
That leaves us with bonus features that I consider throwaways (trailers for other Sony titles) and ones that I fail to understand or appreciate: like BD-Live, or Sony’s “MovieIQ” which purports to have “up-to-date” details on the cast and crew and scenes. But as I keep saying, does anyone really believe that their operators are standing by, reading to upload new data as it becomes available? And no one is asking this question about Profiile 2.0 features. What happens to the features when a server crashes? Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather have the info in my hands.
The ugly truth about this film is that it may convince males out there that it’s okay to be a pig, because, hey, we’re all like that. And pigs can get the girl, too. Not!