gerard butler's dance with thandi newton in guy ritchie's underrated, multilayered gangster extravaganza rocknrolla was a lovely, funny flirtation-the sexiest musical moment in recent movies. largely because butler and newton aren't cookie-cutter media types, they redefined male-female principles through their own personalities: his hunky masculinity, her sylph-like femininity. she wriggled, he parried: yin-yang in motion. but there's nothing so insouciant in the ugly truth, an almost antagonistically light-hearted romantic comedy pairing butler with katherine heigl.
butler and heigl don't dance; their bickering, teasing and canoodling is part of over-strategized hollywood formula. she plays abby, a sacramento tv news producer forced to accept mike's (butler) addition to the show as a commentator on "what men and women really want in relationships" (that is, the ugly truth). the narrative battle-plan is a commentary on what audiences accept from rom-com, summed up when mike says, "i know about lust, seduction and manipulation."
adapting the tough, sarcastic bounce of katy perry's "hot n cold" as its theme song, the ugly truth pretends to switch gender stereotypes with mike schooling abby on how to attract a man. his machismo counters her feminist cluelessness. this odd device is so cynical that the heterosexual mechanism turns strangely gay. mike is virtually abby's gay best friend, counseling her love life from the sidelines. director robert luketic (legally blonde) gets in the requisite rom-com clothes-shopping montage, but he doesn't convincingly depict contemporary unisex awareness-the things that men and women know about each other in the post-feminist age that was part of guy ritchie's marvelous sophistication in rocknrolla. it led to that brilliant sex montage where butler and newton's hook-up became a cubist, godard-like distillation of mutual adult lust.
the ugly truth wastes gerard butler's surprising contribution to current cinema sensuality. his ferocious performance as king leonides in 300 turned zack snyder's stroke-book caricature into a powerfully grave alpha-male portrait-the kind of great, physical, pure-cinema acting the oscars overlook. butler's breakthrough had a subtle seismic effect, evident in the peculiar widow romance p.s. i love you, where his courtship and objectification by hilary swank happened in covertly gay plot conditions (including a judy garland karaoke contest!). butler complicates how movies fetishize masculinity and, because his good actor's sensitivity isn't remotely androgynous, guy ritchie could use this quality to enhance his panoply of male types in rocknrolla's dickensian deconstruction of class, sex and cultural ideology.
in the ugly truth's less profound circumstances, butler argues, "men are incapable of growth, change or progress" (borrowing from tom cruise's alpha-male huckster in magnolia). he bluffs insensitivity to hide mike's broken heart-the tough/tender secret of rom-com-and butler makes it credible. his gruff beard and strong, round jowls are offset by cary grant eyes. he's a bright new ideal, but katherine heigl isn't. heigl's blond highlights suggest she's playing doris day to butler's rock hudson-only her timing's not musical, it's tv. heigl showed genuine charm in the farrelly brothers' production the ringer but became coarse in knocked up. now, abby is like mary tyler moore's mary richards customized by judd apatow. her career-woman ditsiness is dull and frequently turns gross, including a humiliating vibrator slapstick scene stolen from the far more sophisticated shortbus. this butler-heigl mismatch drop-kicks rom-com from the rocknrolla sublime to the apatow depths
-- the ugly truth directed by robert luketic runtime: 101 min.