The Ugly Truth might be just another chick flick with men getting sucker-punched by proxy until surrendering to what women want is the only way out.
Not this time. Not with a rugged man's man like Gerard Butler giving back to the ladies as tough as he gets. The guy faced down Persian hordes in 300, for Hef's sake. Certainly engaging in a battle of the sexes against a romantic comedy lightweight like Katherine Heigl isn't a challenge.
You almost don't notice that Butler is tossing the most lethal grenades at the male species, playing Mike Chadway, a cocky TV commentator specializing in lust, seduction and manipulation of women. He's the worst aspects of manhood rolled into one mush-faced, low-maintenance package — an unapologetic poster boy for misogyny who wandered off the set of a Judd Apatow raunchfest.
With her Barbie looks and Skipper personality, Heigl doesn't stand a chance.
The only surprise in the otherwise ordinary The Ugly Truth is that Mike never transforms into anything else. Rough edges are smoothed a bit as romantic feelings for his producer Abby Richter (Heigl) take shape. Yet Mike remains selfish and sexist, right up to the final embrace, and Abby's the one required to change. The Ugly Truth is a movie telling women to loosen up a little, get in touch with your inner pig.
If only the rest of Robert Luketic's movie were that subversive.
The Ugly Truth treads on well-trampled turf: the driven professional woman unlucky in love, thrown together with someone she can't stand until the last reel. There's a Cyrano angle with Mike coaching Abby in attracting her handsome neighbor (Eric Winter) but he's never a formidable threat to an ending that's obvious from the start.
A few laughs are generated by Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins as married co-hosts of Abby's morning show, taking Mike's carnal advice to heart on the air. There's also a nagging feeling that Mike's blunt talk and escapades with Jell-O wrestling women wouldn't be tolerated in a local TV format. It's as bogus as Abby climbing a tree to rescue her cat and staying to play Peeping Tom, or being so naive about men in general.
Luckily, Mike keeps things fairly real. Butler obviously has a ball playing him, somewhere between the eye-rolling mania of Lethal Weapon Mel Gibson (Part 3, perhaps) and Russell Crowe's Gladiator gruffness. Without him, The Ugly Truth would be an uglier time at the movies.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.