The Ugly Truth is proof that when dealing with such movies, oftentimes the only thing separating the complete trash from the sort-of-trash is the actors. The film’s title may be a nod to Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth, and while Robert Luketic’s synthetic rom-com is, of course, worlds away from McCarey’s comedy-of-remarriage masterpiece, the charmingly brittle chemistry between leads Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler keeps things moving pleasurably enough along.
Heigl stars as Abby Richter, an award-winning producer on a small-town morning show. To combat low ratings, Abby’s boss brings in Mike Chadway, host of the titular public-access program on which he gives women advice on picking up men by manipulating their sex-driven minds and insists that any woman who disagrees with him must be single, lonely, and ugly. Appalled at Mike’s crude sexism, Abby enters into a combative—but, oh boy, sexually charged—work relationship with him that results in him betting that, by following his advice, she can nab the heart of her bland but, like, totally hunky neighbor, which, of course, she does. Then some other stuff happens, all of it leading inevitably to Abby and Mike falling for each other.
There’s not an expected beat the film doesn’t hit, and its jokes, while somewhat wittier than the norm, fall flat just as often as not. (One extended bit, in which Abby accidentally wears vibrating panties to an important work dinner, during which the panties go off, is so awful it nearly sinks the whole enterprise, no matter how hard Heigl tries to carry it off through sheer force of will.) Still, Heigl and Butler prove more than adept at this kind of thing, bantering with a breezy sharpness the material doesn’t really earn. Heigl is an old-Hollywood-style beauty with a remarkably expressive face and a talent for physical comedy, and Butler delivers his nasty lines with a rascal charm that hides the fact that Mike is really kind of a dick.
Which, in its way, is another of the film’s modest strengths. Abby may be that typical sexist rom-com type (the professional woman too concerned with work for a normal love life), but unlike in so many other cases, she doesn’t have to change to find love. At the end, she’s the same high-strung control freak she was at the start, and Mike, despite a half-assed attempt to humanize him by bringing up past failed relationships, is the same sarcastic jerk. The Ugly Truth seems to understand that you don’t fix yourself to find the person you love; you find the person that knows your flaws and, for whatever reason, loves you anyway. That isn’t much, but at least it’s something.