Sometimes it’s hard to hate Katherine Heigl. Of course, it should be easy—the Grey’s Anatomy actress has made a practice out of doing things that almost seemed designed to make her fans turn against her (withdrawing her name from Emmy competition because she felt she was not given awards-worthy material from the writers of the show that made her famous, or criticizing Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up—a.k.a. the film that made her a movie star—for painting women as humorless and uptight shrews, etc). But then you see a lightweight summer romantic comedy like The Ugly Truth and one is forced to admit that Ms. Heigl is actually pretty good in such fizzy fare, elevating predictable material into something almost worth watching. Almost.
Ms. Heigl plays Abby, a highly competent television producer that—surprise!—has problems producing much in the way of a love life. This, we are shown, through various scenes of Abby being uptight and controlling (she prints out the profile of her Internet date—hi, Kevin Connolly!—and provides him talking points to get through dinner) and hopelessly sad-sack Cathy-like singlehood existence with every cliché you can think of. (That’s right, she has a cat and likes to knit. Come on, Hollywood. Sigh.) Enter Gerard Butler as Mike, an unapologetic misogynist late-night TV personality who likes to say ridiculous things about men and women (the “ugly truth,” natch), only to get hired on to Abby’s show to improve the ratings. Can anyone guess yet what will happen? So, yes, the two spar and then Mike agrees to help Abby try to date her hot neighbor by getting extensions and dressing sluttier and giving such sage advice as to masturbate more. (I am not making this stuff up—he refers to it as “flicking the bean”!) In fact, if there’s any surprises to be found within The Ugly Truth, it is how filthy and raunchy it gets. But once you get over the pleasant surprise of watching Katherine Heigl say “cock,” it does little to take away from how paint-by-numbers this thing is. It becomes not if these two opposites will get together, but when … and if there will be rain or a dramatic airport scene involved.
That said, the lead actors deal with what they’ve been given with aplomb. Ms. Heigl has a knack for letting herself look silly, and it actually works to the point where you’ll be embarrassedly laughing at her antics (Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic and screenwriters Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith take the When Harry Met Sally faux orgasm scene to its next step: real orgasm in a public restaurant). Gerard Butler certainly is making some interesting choices these days, from boy-favorite 300 to last year’s P.S. I Love You to Nim’s Island. He’s charismatic enough to make wanting to looking past his tough-guy antics (an ugly fat guy would never get away with it) believable, and when the two finally do make out in an elevator, you truly believe that they desperately want to do it. However, with films like (500) Days of Summer out there, it’s hard to see any new ground being broken. It’s a fluffy enough trifle that if seen under the right circumstance could be fun. Just maybe not if you have a cat and like to knit.