Friday, July 24, 2009

The Ugly Truth

THE UGLY TRUTH (Robert Luketic, 2009)

Is there nothing grander than young love born from loathing and hatred? So says THE UGLY TRUTH.

Television morning show producer Abby (Katherine Heigl) would like to meet and marry Mr. Right, but she's not in any hurry to encounter who she envisions as the ideal man. It's a good thing Abby can wait. No one is likely to match the extensive and impractical checklist of criteria she's decided her companion must match.

Cable access show host Mike (Gerard Butler) dispenses relationship advice that, at best, could be considered sexist and more likely is misogynist. Mike's crude musings about men and women infuriates Abby when she stumbles upon his program one evening. The following morning she's even less pleased to learn that this oaf has been hired to goose the ratings for her show.

Mike and Abby get along grudgingly for the sake of work. To persuade her that his philosophies about interactions between the genders have merit, Mike offers some CYRANO DE BERGERAC-like help so Abby ensnare the hot podiatrist next door. She consents to carrying out his seduction techniques despite being unconvinced about his methods.

Romantic comedies have a tradition of exaggerating how people act and respond when it comes to matters of the heart, but even by those loose standards THE UGLY TRUTH far exceeds the limits of believable behavior. The film's comedic centerpiece is a scene in which Abby is humiliated during an important business dinner. It's the perfect encapsulation of everything wrong with THE UGLY TRUTH. The individual developments test the screenwriting credibility enough as it is. The chain of events is wholly implausible.

First, Abby and Mike have a graphic discussion at work about her sexual frustration. Next, Mike sends her vibrating panties to relieve the tension. Abby's date informs her that he's running late, so she slips on the stimulating underwear to bide the time. Practically as she's putting them on, Mike and her boss are at her door insisting that she must accompany them to a critical meeting. Perhaps mistakenly she slides the panties' remote into her purse and departs with her co-workers. At the restaurant the control falls out of her purse and is picked up by a boy. Since the remote looks like a gadget developed by a scientist in a 1950s movie, the boy begins playing with the device. The vibrating panties start working their magic. Rather than excusing herself, Abby moans and twitches in ecstasy in front of the entire restaurant. Mike even notices that the boy has the remote, but instead of putting an end to the situation, he is amused by it all and lets it continue.

While a similar scene takes place in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, there are crucial differences between the films. It's debatable whether either scenario might occur in public in real life, but unlike Meg Ryan's Sally, Abby in THE UGLY TRUTH has no control of the situation and is the one being embarrassed. In WHEN HARRY MET SALLY the humor derives from the male character's belief being challenged and him being made uncomfortable. Abby's degradation in THE UGLY TRUTH has a measure of vindictiveness and elicits cruel laughter. THE UGLY TRUTH has a pretty hateful attitude toward women, something forcefully emphasized in this scene

THE UGLY TRUTH'S gender politics draw inspiration from THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, but that doesn't absolve the coarse and nasty tone throughout a film that's supposedly a love story. Two-thirds of THE UGLY TRUTH concentrates on knocking Abby down peg after peg and provides no basis for attraction between her and Mike before delivering the predictable and dubious third act change of heart. THE UGLY TRUTH has all the honesty and romance of an Axe body spray commercial.

Grade: D+

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