The Ugly Truth

The disappointing thing about “The Ugly Truth” isn’t that it’s formulaic, stupid, and unfunny. It’s that it’s formulaic, stupid, and unfunny in all the usual ways. Is there no more ingenuity in Hollywood? Can no one think of new ways for movies to be irritating and pointless?

So we’re in Sacramento, and Abby (Katherine Heigl) is the producer of a local morning news show, and she’s a well-organized, unflappable, problem-solving control freak. When she goes on a date, she runs a background check on the guy first and prints out a list of talking points in case the conversation lags, a list that she doesn’t even bother to hide in her date’s presence. Yet she wonders why her love life never goes anywhere. This is because she is a moron.

Meanwhile, there is a popular public-access TV show (do those still exist?) called “The Ugly Truth,” in which the grunting, unshaven host, Mike (Gerard Butler), explains, week after week, that men only care about a woman’s physical appearance, that they are not capable of true love, and that the sooner women accept these truths and adjust their expectations accordingly, the better. Abby stumbles across the show one night and, incensed, calls in to insist that some men ARE decent, caring human beings, and that she’s holding out hope for her Mr. Right to come along. Mike counters that Abby is living in a fantasy world and is probably ugly.

The next morning — less than 12 hours later — Abby discovers that her boss saw this exchange, didn’t realize Abby was the caller, and has hired Mike as a new correspondent for the morning show! It’s like that scenario that occurs in 99% of all romantic comedies, where the man is rude to a woman in the elevator, then discovers upstairs that she’s his new boss! And it’s always so funny and unexpected, every single time.

Mike enjoys cheerfully sexually harassing his female co-workers in the most explicit terms, which the movie thinks is plausible and realistic because at least someone mentions “sexual harassment” once. (It’s Abby who mentions it. Then she drops it and lets him continue sexually harassing her without trying to have him fired, which would be very easy and wholly justified.) On the air, Mike befuddles the anchors, husband-and-wife team Larry (John Michael Higgins) and Georgia (Cheryl Hines), by going off-script and staging crazy stunts like having bikini-clad bimbos Jell-O wrestle in a wading pool outside the TV station’s door. (He somehow sets this up without anyone at the station knowing about it.)

The real plot kicks in when Abby meets a handsome doctor named Colin (Eric Winter), who lives in her apartment complex. As you might expect, the way she meets him is that she has to climb a tree to get her cat and she sees him through his window, towel-clad after taking a shower, and she pauses to ogle him, and then she falls and is hanging upside-down from a tree branch, her skirt over her head and her panties showing, and then Colin hears the commotion and comes outside to help her, and his towel falls off and Abby’s face is suspended exactly at wang level. You know, the basic girl-meets-boy story.

Anyway, since Abby is a clueless buffoon with absolutely no idea how human beings interact with each other (note: this is my interpretation, not the movie’s), she lets Mike give her advice on how to get Colin to fall in love with her. They agree that if Mike’s advice works, Abby has to quit hassling him about being a sexist troglodyte. If it fails, Mike will quit the show.

The advice he gives her, obviously, is to dress like a tart, never disagree with anything Colin says, never talk about her own problems, and so forth. In one scene, Colin and Abby go to a baseball game and Mike follows them so he can feed Abby instructions through a tiny earpiece. (Yes, really. The movie actually uses this idea.) It gets better, though: At the game, Abby is humiliated when the Jumbo-Tron captures her in a position that makes it look like she’s performing a sex act on Colin. Again: yes, really. I know it sounds like I’m making up a fictional terrible movie that’s cobbled together from remnants of other terrible movies, but no.

Did I mention the vibrating panties? Well, Abby wears some vibrating panties on a date, and the date leads to her and Colin joining Mike and her TV bosses for dinner (don’t ask me why), and the panties start vibrating, and rather than go to the restroom and remove them, she stays at the table and keeps talking, except she can’t speak very well because she’s in the middle of sexual ecstasy, and boy does she ever look funny!!

Like I said at the beginning, it’s the usual stupidity, and it leads to the usual foregone conclusions. (Do you suppose Abby and Mike will wind up falling for EACH OTHER??) The director, Robert Luketic, showed promise with his first two features, “Legally Blonde” and the under-seen “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!,” but perhaps those were flukes. Everything he’s done since then — “Monster-in-Law,” “21,” and now this — has been unfortunate at best. The screenplay, originally by first-timer Nicole Eastman but rewritten by “Legally Blonde” and “She’s the Man” duo Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, offers little to work with anyway.

And since it’s moronic the way most of these things are moronic, I can’t even really muster any good hate for it. Its worthlessness does not impress me. It’s like when you see a pile of dog poop on the sidewalk. You think, “Ugh, someone left a mess here.” But it’s nothing special. You’ve seen this sort of thing before, you’ll see it again, it’s nothing to get worked up about. But make no mistake. It IS dog poop.

D (1 hr., 37 min.; R, a lot of profanity and vulgar dialogue, some sexuality, brief nudity.)