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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler are soldiers in the battle of the sexes.
It's a sad fact, but the majority of romantic comedies that hit theaters these days are, for all intents and purposes, identical. Remember last month's The Proposal, in which opposite-sex rivals bickered at each other for almost two hours before realizing that they were really in love with each other? Well, now comes The Ugly Truth, in which opposite-sex rivals bicker at each other for almost two hours before realizing that they are really in love with each other. Of course, neither film invented that formula; they are merely the most recent to (ab)use it. Why does Hollywood keep making essentially the same movie over and over and, more importantly, why do people keep going to see it?

In this iteration, Katherine Heigl plays Abby Richter, a romantically unsuccessful television producer. (Incidentally, 90% of heroines in rom-coms work as either television producers or book/magazine editors. Don't believe me? Look it up.) Much like the characters Heigl played in Knocked Up and 27 Dresses, Abby is an anal, uptight control freak who works herself into a panic over the thought that she might never land a decent man. Just to digress for a second: Does anyone else find it odd that movies containing such feminism-regressing characters are routinely marketed to women? Just asking.

With the ratings of her morning news show on the decline, Abby is forced to hire Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), the chauvinistic host of a public-access program on which he purports to give relationship advice to women. A typical nugget of wisdom involves advising them to spend extra time on the treadmill to make their bodies as desirable to men as possible. Mike's no-holds-barred appearances boost the ratings, which makes Abby livid. But then Mike offers to give her advice on capturing the heart of the studly neighbor (Eric Winter) who has been blowing off her advances. Surprise, surprise - acting like a slut works, and Abby starts to get her man before realizing that she has an unexpected spark with Mike as well. I will assume that everyone reading this is acquainted with the Rule of Bickering Movie Couples and knows where this is going.

Since both Abby and Mike work for television, that can mean only one thing: their romantic complications will eventually resolve themselves during a live TV broadcast, while the station manager frets loudly in the control room. Like all TV stations in rom-coms, this one has absolutely nothing else to cut to. No commercials, no other news stories, no features. Not even a test pattern.

In four paragraphs, I think I have largely conveyed what I disliked about The Ugly Truth. But there's one more thing. The comedy here is really contrived, often painfully so. Consider the scene in which Abby tries on a pair of remote-controlled vibrating panties before going on a date with her neighbor. Once she has them on, Mike and her boss arrive at the door to whisk her away to a spontaneous business meeting. (You see this coming already, don't you?) Once in a restaurant, surrounded by corporate bigwigs she needs to impress, Abby drops her handbag, sending the remote control rolling across the floor, where a young boy discovers it and proceeds to flick it on and off. Hence, Abby is left to simultaneously give a business presentation and have an orgasm. That's a hell of a long way to go for a joke.

It may come as a surprise at this point in the review, but I did not hate this movie. I really hated things about it, that's for sure. Other stuff, I kind of enjoyed. And when I say "other stuff," I mean Gerard Butler. Despite the inanity and predictability of everything else - not to mention Heigl as Controlling Shrew Spinster Version 3.0 - Butler is consistently funny. Mike Chadway may not be a Scot, but the actor's Scottish charm comes through loud and clear. He's having so much fun playing the proudly misogynistic character that he enlivens every single scene he's in. You can see the mischievous gleam in his eye whenever he makes some vulgar or outrageous comment designed to get a rise out of Abby. Any fun to be found in The Ugly Truth lies with Butler.

Some of the other stuff isn't bad either. I laughed at a few of the one-liners and sight gags. Director Robert Luketic (who also made Legally Blonde and 21) takes a weak script and nevertheless gives it a fast pace and visual style. He also, as always, makes effective use of pop music on the soundtrack. For a movie that's so fundamentally clichéd, at least it felt largely painless.

I liked the Gerard Butler half of The Ugly Truth; the Katherine Heigl half, not so much. That said, it's time for a little ugly truth of my own. You know what would have completely sold this movie for me? Had Mike not been a softie. This is no spoiler. We've already established that everyone knows the Rule of Bickering Movie Couples. I would like to have seen a version of this story where Mike Chadway is a pig all the way through to his core, and where Abby would have to decide if she can love a man whose views of women are only slightly more evolved than a Neanderthal's. That movie might have had something more enlightening to say about the battle of the sexes. This one merely trots out the old platitudes about how even world class beauties can be dateless losers, and how the wildest wild man can be tamed by true love.


( out of four)

The Ugly Truth is rated R for sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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