‘The Ugly Truth’: Failure To Raunch, By Kurt Loder

Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, just right in the wrong picture.

“The Ugly Truth” is an attempted Judd Apatow movie — a raunchy romance — that fails not only to raise the bar, but even to reach it. Apatow, both as a director (“Knocked Up”) and as a producer working with directors in his orbit (“Superbad,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) understands the liberating power of boldly scabrous dialogue and boundary-nudging sexual situations, and he embraces them. The makers of “The Ugly Truth” are reticent by comparison, which is the kiss of tedium.

The actors are superior to the trite material. [movieperson id="27853"]Katherine Heigl[/movieperson] plays Abby, a Sacramento TV producer who’s so hard-up for dates that she has to troll the Internet in search of Mr. Right. (Again: Katherine Heigl.) The happy-talk news show she produces, hosted by a bickering married couple (Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins), is dead last in the ratings. In desperation, management decides to bring in Mike ([movieperson id="206199"]Gerard Butler[/movieperson]), the burly host of a man-centric public-access program called “The Ugly Truth,” on which he derides love as a female scam and advises lonely bachelorettes to “get some trashy lingerie — all we care about is looks.”

Abby is appalled when Mike is inserted into the mix on her news show. (After his first appearance she runs to her office and cowers in a closet.) Soon this unevolved clod is staging segments with Jell-O-wrestling bikini babes, and he and Abby begin butting heads in earnest. But wait — could these two in fact, somehow, be right for each other? Romantically? To ask is to answer.

Since Heigl’s character — a professional woman of some accomplishment — is depicted as basically a love-starved ditz (she does an idiot dance of joy when she finally meets a hot male prospect), it’s surprising to learn that the script was written by three women, and that two of them were Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz, the ace team behind such far-better films as “The House Bunny” and “Legally Blonde” (the latter also directed, like this one, by Robert Luketic). The movie does have some lively moments (mostly Butler’s doing) and some actual laughs. But there are also a number of lines that land with a near-audible thud (as when Abby tells an aggressive colleague that he has “balls the size of a Volkswagen”).

What really derails the film, though, is its forced comic situations. For example: Abby climbs a tree to retrieve her runaway cat. Through a neighboring window she spots a hunky guy toweling off after a shower. The branch on which she’s standing breaks, leaving her dangling upside down from the tree (and giving us a glimpse of her underwear). When shower guy comes out to help, wearing only his towel … well, what follows has the form of funny, but the setup is so strained that the humor is hobbled. Even more awkward is an orgasm scene in a restaurant, which demonstrates that the filmmakers have watched “When Harry Met Sally” and had no idea how to improve upon it.

Heigl and Butler have an appealing chemistry in this movie (he’s a surprisingly agile comic performer), and the supporting actors — especially Higgins, and Bree Turner as Abby’s droll assistant — round out a sharp ensemble that would’ve done credit to a smart carnal comedy. Despite what the trailer might seem to promise, though, “The Ugly Truth” isn’t it.

Don’t miss Kurt Loder’s review of “Orphan,” also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Ugly Truth.”

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