The Ugly Truth

Starring Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Bree Turner and Eric Winter. Directed by Robert Luketic
Rated MA15+ (strong sexual references). 95 mins.

Yet another “battle of the sexes” movie, The Ugly Truth, directed by Australia’s Robert Lutekic (Legally Blonde), manages to be more irritating and offensive than endearing — rarely a good basis for romantic comedy in my experience. Many people would be put off by the blunt language about matters sexual in a film that cries out for a touch of class.

Katherine Heigl manages a fair impersonation of the young Doris Day as Abby, glamorous producer of a morning TV magazine programme in Sacramento. The ratings are slipping, so management hires Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), a redneck who has attracted attention on a cable channel by spouting outrageous views on women and relationships. They want his controversial segment, The Ugly Truth, to pump some life into a morning format that is past its use-by date.

Abby is a conservative single woman who believes that somewhere in Sacramento there is a sensitive, intelligent, faithful man right for her. In fact, the new tenant in the next apartment ticks all the boxes on her wish list. He is Colin (Eric Winter), a handsome doctor who likes cats and red wine among other qualities that Abby finds attractive.

Mike’s sexist, uncouth ranting is anathema to Abby. He thinks she is repressed and uptight. She yearns for love, devotion and tenderness, but he champions “lust, seduction and manipulation” as more attainable goals. Yet, as the show’s ratings climb and Abby gets to know Mike, she allows him to give her tips on how to trap Colin. She has to learn to be both saint and sinner, he tells her; be both librarian and stripper. And as he works on transforming her into his idea of a desirable partner — lo! she finds herself falling for him instead.

Stranger things have no doubt happened, but the unlikely coupling is, like most of this film, unconvincing. The screenplay by Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith does not have the ring of truth at any stage and much of the dialogue is contrived and unlikely. The two stars mug a lot but have little chemistry, and Heigl’s juvenile jumping and gibbering when Abby realises Colin likes her is more the behaviour of silly schoolgirl than a senior TV executive. You would think director Luketic would have called for a more believable reaction — but with Ms Heigl and writer Lutz as executive producers, perhaps his hands were tied.

One can’t help thinking what a Cary Grant, a Roz Russell, a Spencer Tracy or a Katharine Hepburn would have made of this pantomime. One thing is for sure, they would have given it some class.

Sony  Out August 6.

Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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