Thursday, March 25, 2010

"The Ugly Truth" (2009)

"The Ugly Truth" (2009)
Starring Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl
Written by Nicole Eastman and Karen Lutz
Directed by Robert Luketic

When I was in high school, a very dear friend of mine (and a woman whose opinion I continue to value greatly to this day) once attempted to show me the importance of "chick flicks."  As a teenage male, of course, there's little to find of value in this particular field.  We watched something with Christian Slater, and I think he had a baboon's heart or something crazy like that; I forget the name of the film.  Really, that's not important.  What is important, really is that while at the time the experiment may have not been all that successful (in return, we did get to watch James Cameron's classic "Aliens" which led to a rather bizarre new nickname for my friend) it was worthwhile to attempt.

Flash-forward to now.  I'm... Jesus, I'm in my late 20s, and although I've expanded my palette somewhat, let's face the facts: I'm an action movie dude.  While my ability to appreciate other genres has improved, I'm still a sucker for gunfights and explosions, and all that wonderful technical wizardry that makes action films so much harder to make than practically any other kind.

So yes, I watched "The Ugly Truth" starring Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl.  Why?  Frankly, who knows.  To keep my mind open, maybe.  I'm sure my friend may read this and say, "Yeah, but I wanted you to watch good chick flicks."  Yes, I should've done that.  Sorry.  But here goes:

Katherine Heigl plays Abby, a gorgeous yet entirely crazy woman who simply can't figure out men.  Her controlling ways lead her to categorize and itemize everything about her "ideal man", which she presents (literally) as a list of talking points on dates.  Obviously, this doesn't get her very far in her search for love.  Gerard Butler is Mike, the host of a cheesy public access show called "The Ugly Truth" in which he doles out chauvinistic relationship advice.

In desperate need of a ratings boost on the TV show she produces, Abby is forced to bring Mike on the show for his own "Ugly Truth" segment, even though she hates him.  She claims to hate him and the advice he dispenses, but she soon figures out that he's right - which only makes her hate it even more.  Against her better judgment, she employs Mike's help at wooing her attractive neighbor, Colin. 

Now here's where I'm going to explain where I was going with my intro: My problem with romantic comedies (not to be confused with "chick flicks" in general, though definitely a part of it) is that, I think, even more so than my beloved, cliche-ridden action genre, these stories are inherently, irreparably predictable.  Of course, this can be said about the absolute core of nearly any story.  There are only something like a couple or three dozen actual plots possible for any story, when you boil them all down to basics.  For the romantic comedy, there tends to be one: Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall for each other, misunderstanding, separation, reconciliation, happily ever after.

Right from the get-go, we know exactly where "The Ugly Truth" is going to go, so the movie has to try much harder to entertain us till we get there.  The makers of the film could have thrown us a curveball by NOT having Mike and Abby fall for each other, but "The Ugly Truth" is just like 99% of romantic comedies out there. 

And so here's the kicker: I liked "The Ugly Truth" more than I liked "The Bounty Hunter."  Why?  That's easy: The R rating.  The jokes in "Ugly Truth" may not be terrifically funny (indeed, only a few are more than chuckle-worthy) but throwing in some dirty language gives them bite that "The Bounty Hunter" lacked entirely.  For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why "Bounty Hunter" was rated PG-13, as it's an utterly harmless movie.  Even the brief action sequences are bloodless and inoffensive.  At least the dirty jokes in "Ugly Truth" have some dirt in them. 

This is not to say that I liked "The Ugly Truth."  I liked certain things about it.  Gerard Butler once again proves that he's a very capable, energetic and engrossing actor.  The man simply has presence, whether it's when he's slaughtering enemy soldiers wearing practically nothing but a speedo ("300") or wooing various attractive women with a wink and a nod.  The same with Heigl, who has good timing and is able to hold her own with dirty language.  It might be fun to see her attempt an action picture again (her small role in "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" had her next to Steven Seagal himsel). 

But the simple truth is that "The Ugly Truth" just doesn't do enough to make itself stand out or break any new ground to make it a worthwhile picture.  It's a problem that most movies of the genre succumb to, one that's driven me nuts for years and years.  Because at the end of the day, at least a bad action picture has all kinds of ridiculous wizardry to distract me... But a bad romantic comedy?  What distractions does it present?  Set design?  Probably not, since it takes place in all manner of mundane locations like hotel elevators and office buildings. 

Of course, I'm always open to suggestions.  I know there are good romantic comedies and good chick flicks out there.  What are they?  Show them to me, so that I can appreciate them, too.

(PS: Ems, what was the name of that Christian Slater movie?)