I recently took a trip interstate, necessitating a two-and-a-half-hour plane trip. Although The Ugly Truth is only 96 minutes long, it seems like it is about as long as that plane trip and thus I’m going to use it to help explain the experience.
Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) is an award-winning producer for a cable television morning talk show, whose control freak tendencies mean that when she is not at work she comes off as only bizarre. Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), on the other hand, is host of a late-night local access television show entitled ‘The Ugly Truth’, in which he pontificates on women and the problems they create for themselves when they idealise or attempt to change their men. When the latest ratings figures suggest her show might need some help, Abby’s boss invites Mike to do a brief segment twice a week.
Given our plane had by this stage lost one engine and started losing fuel, perhaps we may have been best to abort the flight before take-off, but before I knew it we were off on our ‘mystery flight’ journey toward a final destination known to all. This is the way with modern romantic comedies, you see: no matter what contrived bullshit the writers can come up with to make their film seem ‘fresh’, it still ends up being a two hour movie with an ending that is entirely predictable. You can anticipate the story in many of these films from the trailer alone. Perhaps it is somewhat reassuring to know that whether or not we like the characters or enjoy their story, they will reach a ‘heart-warming’ impasse after about 100 minutes and we can all be satisfied.
In flight, we experience significant turbulence – you see, neither of the lead characters has any particularly desirable (or even just mildly appealing) qualities, and oftentimes they seem like no real person I’ve ever met or, for that matter, heard of. Heigl’s Abby is an insult to women everywhere – which is remarkable when one considers the all-female writing team – and one wonders why she continues to sign up for roles such as this. Hasn’t she learnt yet, even after appearing in such appalling nonsense as Knocked Up and 27 Dresses? It is hard to tell if she can actually act, or whether she is just playing herself over and over again – one hopes this isn’t the real Heigl and she will choose a film that will stretch her acting muscles for her next gig.
Butler brings a certain raffish charm to his turn as Mike, although that charm is frequently obliterated by the offensive garbage he is forced to spout and that the audience just knows can’t be really what he thinks. Yes, that’s right, we all know he’s really got a heart of gold, and so we are supposed to forgive him his misogyny and let his winning smile melt our – and Abby’s – hearts. Although Butler can be a wonderful performer, one gets the impression he is on auto-pilot to enable him to suffer through this most dire of scripts. Additionally, his Scottish accent frequently reappears allowing him a comical brogue not usually associated with Americans.
Just like every flight has an in-flight drinks service, the usual romantic comedy structures and mechanics apply. Couple dislikes one another but is forced together by circumstance, at one point even dancing together so she can realise what it would be like to have sex with him. They order drinks in a bar but then leave without enjoying – or paying for – them. Mike even helps Abby get a date with another man. At one point I was considering whether I had taken this flight before, and it finally occurred to me I had – The Ugly Truth is almost a remake of the moderately more enjoyable 2001 Ashley Judd / Hugh Jackman romcom Someone Like You.
Upon landing, the audience can expect relief that their brief ordeal is over, and the welcome burst of fresh air that they experience as they leave the cinema. That the plane held together at all is remarkable, and that the flight crew and fittings all looked the part is no surprise – Hollywood can make any film, no matter how appallingly scripted, no matter how offensive the stereotypes, seem polished. No amount of Hollywood polish, however, can disguise the fact that The Ugly Truth is a flaming turd of a film with barely any redeemable qualities. Avoid this trip if you can.Rating: