"The Ugly Truth" takes everything that is romantic comedy to the manic max. This Mars-Venus skirmish, set in a TV newsroom, is a self-conscious glut of creamy skin, magazine-ready homes, misogyny, man-hatred, predictable romance and incessant banter. It's rom-com writ large -- so blown up that it's faintly ridiculous and, what with the knowing irony and all, somehow new again. And how delightful it is.
At a floundering Sacramento TV station, Abby (Katherine Heigl) is a workaholic producer who can't seem to keep her Nielsen ratings or her dating life steady. She lives alone in a well-appointed condo with only her tabby, d'Artagnan, to lend a sympathetic ear. Abby is halfheartedly hoping to land The Perfect Man with a symmetrical face and, you know, morals. But she's way too Type A to rope anyone (Caveat lector: Suspend serious amounts of disbelief here, as Heigl is a godlike creature).
But what's this? Egad! Abby's TV station, desperate for viewers, starts airing a relationship-advice spot hosted by the rakish, unshaven Mike (Gerard Butler). He's a modern-day libertine, a connoisseur of coarser pleasures, a dispenser of hard-hitting, un-PC "truths." Viewers eat him up.
You know the story: Mike uses naughty words on air; Abby hates Mike; Mike doesn't believe in love; Abby doesn't believe in lust; Abby wants to date some upstanding doctor; Mike helps Abby date upstanding doctor; vibrating lingerie is purchased. The whole makeover fantasy is indulged -- Mike sex-kitten-ifies Abby, gives her the lowdown on how to snag a man (keep him waiting, and never take control -- duh), and coaches her through a first date, Cyrano-style, via a hidden earpiece. Unlikely friendship and -- surprise! -- something more ensue.
Credit where credit is due: "The Ugly Truth" might be the first film in which a woman's yanking out of her hair extensions signals a true emotional climax. And it's just this sort of off-kilter quality that makes this script more impressive than its fluffier cousins. One senses a gleefully dark sensibility lurking in the minds of the film's three female screenwriters, who have no qualms about dialogue that might be tooquicktokeepupwith. Where run-of-the-mill rom-coms dodge pessimism and prurience and body-fluid jokes, "The Ugly Truth" excels, poking indiscreetly into the genre's every corner with more clear-eyed force than, say, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" would ever dare.
Under the direction of Robert Luketic ("Legally Blonde"), "The Ugly Truth" is indulgently glossy, refreshingly snarky and legitimately sexy. It's no art film (obvi!), no soulful indie flick and no "When Harry Met Sally . . . " for that matter. But when Mike advises Abby to be "the saint and the sinner, the librarian and the stripper," how can the hardened, rom-com-hating Thinking Woman not bark a gruff and hearty "Ha!"? The film is shallow and fleeting, candylike and summery. But there is no shame in that. And if you refuse to see it now, you'll see it on some airplane someday. And you'll watch it. And that's the ugly truth.