(CNN) -- Humiliation and comedy have always been natural bedfellows, but the one doesn't guarantee the other, as poor Katherine Heigl discovers in this crude, sub-par stab at a modern screwball comedy.
Katherine Heigl plays the sophisticated female boss of Gerard Butler in "The Ugly Truth."
The "Grey's Anatomy" and "Knocked Up" star plays Abby, a supposedly intelligent producer on a local Sacramento TV news show.
We're repeatedly assured that she's good at her job, though there's little or no evidence for that in what we see, and apparently the ratings are in the toilet.
That's why her boss drafts controversial cable clown Mike (Gerard Butler), whose bargain basement show "The Ugly Truth" gives viewers the real dope on the opposite sex.
Mike's straight talk isn't exactly edifying -- or original. It boils down to this: men are only interested in one thing, and it's not your IQ score.
His advice to women: swallow your pride -- and anything else that might come up.
Abby is understandably skeptical, both professionally and personally, but the sweeps prove her wrong. Mike may be outrageous, but Sacramento loves him for it.
A smarter comedy might make mischief from these base ingredients, the sophisticated female boss and her rude, reactionary star employee. But this movie, which is credited to three female screenwriters, bends over backward to accommodate Mike's tired old sexist world view and fails to be funny in the process.
Abby really is a neurotic control freak, living alone with her cat and a checklist about what constitutes the perfect guy. And when a close approximation of the type moves in right next door (Eric Winter as a handsome young doctor), she only lands him by putting herself in Mike's hands: accentuating her cleavage, losing the ponytail and trading in dinner and an art show for a hot dog and a baseball game.
Directed by Robert Luketic ("Monster in Law"), "The Ugly Truth" barely attempts to disguise its own lifts and tucks. The most craven of these gambits involves Abby going into multiple orgasm at a business dinner, a variation on Meg Ryan's famous scene in "When Harry Met Sally," except that in Ryan's case, she was in full control, demonstrating her mastery of the fake-out.
Abby, though, is sent into inadvertent paroxysms when the remote control of the vibrating panties she's wearing -- don't ask -- falls into the hands of a curious kid. Watch the stars describe the scene »
In other scenes, Heigl is caught hanging upside down from a tree in her nightgown, hiding in her office closet and furiously rubbing a stain out of the doctor's crotch in front of a stadium of ball fans. Presumably this is what picking up Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock's cast-offs entails these days. Katharine Hepburn would weep.
But what about Mike? Surely he has lessons to learn and comic indignities to endure? Not so much. In contrast to Abby's makeover, he's allowed to be comfortable in his own rather corpulent skin. Gerard Butler evidently hasn't worked out since Sparta; heck, he hasn't even bothered to shave.
You won't be surprised that the avowed bachelor boy falls in love with dear Abby. Of course he's a nice guy underneath. We know that from the way he looks out for his fatherless nephew. So what if he's a sexist pig? He's a sexy sexist pig, and obviously father material. What more could any woman want?
"The Ugly Truth" is rated R and runs 97 minutes. For Entertainment Weekly's review, click here.