- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

“The Ugly Truth,” judging by its trailer, is just another formulaic romantic comedy. It looks derivative of any number of romcoms about a man’s man and the woman who loves to hate him — most notably the Ashley Judd vehicle “Someone Like You.”

Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t always judge a film by its trailer. “The Ugly Truth” is actually a very fresh film, one that could be the start of a new genre — the R-rated romantic comedy that appeals as much to men as to women.

That’s not to say you won’t predict exactly where the story will go, but then, how could one possibly make a romantic comedy without it being obvious that sparks eventually will fly between its leads?

It certainly happens to Abby (Katherine Heigl) and Mike (Gerard Butler). She’s the harried producer of a Sacramento, Calif., morning news show flailing in the ratings, and he’s the shock jock hired to raise them. Mike has been dispensing his own brand of homespun wisdom on his cable access show, “The Ugly Truth,” in which he tells women looking for love that the self-help books they’ve been reading will only make them “lonely old hags.” Abby’s been reading them and wondering why she can’t get past the first date, though she helpfully prepares a list of “talking points” to move conversation along.

Abby can’t stand Mike, of course, so he makes her a deal: If he helps her score her hot new neighbor (Eric Winter), she’ll stop trying to get him fired; if he fails, he’ll quit.

Abby follows Mike’s rules (which aren’t unlike “The Rules”), number one of which is “Never criticize”: “Men’s self-improvement ends at toilet training.” He gets her out of her comfortable clothes and into push-up bras and cocktail dresses. All this pandering to the male psyche works — but will Mike come to regret his handiwork?

The plot might sound tired, but the tone is not. Three women have written the type of raunchy screenplay that’s launched films like “The Hangover” into the box-office stratosphere, proving that frank and foul language isn’t just the domain of men.

Miss Heigl and Mr. Butler have a palpable chemistry that smolders from an early scene in which the student flirtatiously shows how much she’s learned. She seems made for romantic comedies, with a body men love but an approachability women appreciate, while Mr. Butler’s eyes are shown off to full effect as he uses them to communicate to the audience the growing attraction he won’t admit. Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins, meanwhile, are pitch-perfect foils as the married anchors who hilariously find working together can sometimes kill the spark.

★★★

TITLE: “The Ugly Truth”

RATING: R (sexual content and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Robert Luketic. Written by Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith.

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

WEB SITE: thetruthisntpretty.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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