The 15:17 to Paris


Anthony Sadler muses aboard the 15:17 to Paris.

(2018) True Life Drama (Warner Brothers) Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, P.J. Byrne, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikel Williams, Thomas Lennon, Jaleel White, Robert Praigo, Tony Hale, Lillian Solange, Ray Corasani, Irene White, Mark Moogalian, Steve Coulter, Seth Meriwether, Heidi Sulzman. Directed by Clint Eastwood

 

True heroism is a pretty rare thing. You never know where it might occur; in a school, or a nightclub – or on a train from Amsterdam to Paris.

But on a hot August day in 2015, the latter is precisely where it occurred. When a terrorist pulled out an automatic rifle and threatened to massacre the travelers aboard the high-speed rail. Director Clint Eastwood, one of the best in Hollywood history, is tackling the events of that day and the three Americans who were involved – boyhood friends from Sacramento, two of whom were in the military. You would think that this would be in Eastwood’s wheelhouse but strangely this is one of his most disappointing movies in decades.

There are a lot of reasons that this movie doesn’t work as well as it might but the biggest is the script of Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book by the three Americans involved. She chooses an odd narrative structure, starting with the beginning of the attack on the train but then going into a series of flashbacks into their boyhood and development into the young men they would become. It makes a bit of a mess of the story and there is a lot of necessary business – too much time sightseeing – that slows down a film that at just over 90 minutes should be zipping by.

Another part of the problem is Eastwood’s decision to cast the heroes as themselves. These young men have a lot of skills but acting is not among them. I’m not blaming them – you get the distinct feeling that these men are experiencing far more nerves in front of the camera than they did facing an armed terrorist – but I don’t think they should have been put into the position that they were. The child actors who play them as youths may be even worse.

The actual terrorist attack is done extremely well and is the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, it takes too long to get there and by the time you do you may have been checking your watch. Now, there are some conservatives who will think that I don’t like the movie because the heroes are Christians who are into guns and the military. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I appreciate that they are a different brand of hero than we normally get on the silver screen and yes, they are normal Americans – that’s what makes their heroism more exemplary, even though they do have military training. The reason I don’t like the movie is because most of the time it’s boring and that has nothing to do with my political views but on my cinematic experience. The fact that mass audiences haven’t embraced the film is a testament to that.

REASONS TO GO: The story is truly inspiring.
REASONS TO STAY: The acting is stiff and there are too many flashbacks – this might have worked better as a documentary rather than as a narrative feature.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, profanity, some bloody images, sexually suggestive material and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first person to tackle the terrorist was actually a Frenchman but he turned down the Legion of Honor and asked to remain anonymous because he feared reprisals from extremists.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/4/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Trouble is My Business

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Lady Bird


There’s always a little love/hate in every mother-daughter relationship.

(2017) Dramedy (A24) Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Odeya Rush, Kathryn Newton, Tracy Letts, Lois Smith, Laura Marano, Andy Buckley, Danielle Macdonald, Jordan Rodrigues, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Kristen Cloke, Daniel Zovatto, John Karna, Bayne Gibby, Bob Stephenson, Marielle Scott, Chris Witaske, Suzanne LaChasse.  Directed by Greta Gerwig

 

Adolescence is a difficult period. We all undergo it; we don’t all survive it. We muddle through as best we can as we learn to find out who we are and hopefully, who we want to become. It’s a wonder that any of us live to be 21.

Christine McPherson (Ronan) insists that people call her “Lady Bird.” That isn’t her name; she just likes the sound of it. A high school senior at an all-girls Catholic school in suburban Sacramento, California, she is chafing at the bit to get free of the Great Central Valley and move somewhere sophisticated and cultured i.e. New York. Her mother Marion (Metcalf) would prefer that Lady Bird stay somewhere local, mainly because that’s about all the family can afford. At least Marion can take comfort in that her daughter, who is surprisingly smart, doesn’t really have the grades to get into any schools she really wants to go to.

Lady Bird has a fairly small circle; in addition to her mother with whom she has a contentious relationship, there’s her brother Miguel (Rodrigues) who graduated college but has only been able to find a job bagging groceries and her father Larry (Letts) who is as loving and kind as her mother is critical and demanding. Lady Bird’s bestie Julie Steffans (Feldstein) is, like herself, from the wrong side of the tracks. Julie is, like Lady Bird, on the outside looking in on the popularity scale.

Like most girls her age, Lady Bird is very interested in boys but they mystify her. She doesn’t really know how to act around them or to let them know she likes them. She’s also interested in sex but she wants it on her terms. I think it’s pretty much safe to say that Lady Bird wants to live life in all its aspects on her own terms which at 17 isn’t necessarily an unusual thing. She will explore different aspects of high school life, experience all sorts of different things both good and bad and continue to work towards her goal of going to college in New York, as hopeless a goal as it may seem.

The term “coming of age film” can cover a whole lot of sins but in this case, it is truly apt. We actually see real growth (as opposed to Hollywood growth which is generally unearned) in Lady Bird. Greta Gerwig, riding the director’s chair solo for the first time in her career, does a bang-up job. Although only semi-autobiographical (Gerwig has gone on record that this is more emotionally autobiographical than factually so) there is an air of authenticity to it. If Lady Bird isn’t Gerwig she’s certainly a cousin and that’s not a bad thing.

Ronan and Metcalf both turn in performances that have legitimate shots at Oscar nominations. When mother and daughter are going at it the screen just about crackles with electricity. Marion loves her daughter passionately but doesn’t always express that love in healthy ways. She’s outspoken (like her daughter) and hyper-critical which is definitely not appreciated. Larry does his best to mitigate things but he’s a little intimidated by Marion as well and when he loses his job he clearly begins to doubt himself although that’s an aspect of the story that isn’t explored thoroughly. Then again, it’s not Larry’s story – it’s Lady Bird’s.

In a sense this is also a love letter to Sacramento (where Gerwig grew up and where this is set). Although Lady Bird complains about the provincialness of the city, it’s clear that Gerwig has a great deal of affection for the place. Residents and regular visitors will recognize a lot of different landmarks and local hangouts shown at various times in the film. One can’t complain about a movie with this much love for the capitol of California.

There is a pretty frank portrayal of Lady Bird’s sexuality; she becomes attracted to two different guys during the course of the film and contemplates losing her virginity. The frank discussion of the event is going to feel familiar to most women, although those who find such things distasteful are going to have a difficult time with that particular scene. I suppose it is going to depend on how comfortable you are with sexual discussions.

Gerwig doesn’t get everything right. The ending feels a bit rushed and a little bit of a nonsequitir. Her move from one BFF to another one who is more shallow just so Lady Bird can get closer to a guy she’s interested in comes off as a little bit cliché and maybe a little bit out of character. However, those are relatively minor things and she does for the most part nail the film.

I commented on Facebook that everyone who has ever been an adolescent girl should see this and I stand by that. It is going to resonate deeply with most women who will recognize the situations and the character dynamics. Men are also going to enjoy this because they will also get a chance to laugh at some of the foibles of adolescent girls – and maybe get to understand the women in their lives just a teensy bit better. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

REASONS TO GO: The writing is smart and the characters realistic. You have to love a film that gives Sacto this much love.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending feels a little bit rushed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, a lot of teen sexuality, some brief nudity and lots of teen partying.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lady Bird recently set a Rotten Tomatoes record for the most positive reviews without a single negative review – 164 consecutive positives and counting.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 94/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Girl Flu
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Gangster Land

All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records


Russ Solomon welcomes all and sundry to the Manhattan Tower Records.

Russ Solomon welcomes all and sundry to the Manhattan Tower Records.

(2015) Documentary (Gravitas) Russ Solomon, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Mark Viducich, David Geffen, Michael Solomon, Steve Knepper, Heidi Cotler, Dave Grohl, Mike Farrace, Rudy Danzinger, Paul Brown, Steve Knopper, Steve Nikkel, Stan Goman, Ken Sockolov, Chris Hopson, Bob Delanoy. Directed by Colin Hanks

To people of a certain age, a visit to a record store was akin to a spa day; we would spend literally hours browsing the bins of records, cassettes and later compact discs. We’d pour through the bargain and used bins, sweaty palmed and wide-eyed until our breath would catch in our throats as the one record, that one record that made the time and effort worth it appeared out of the stacks. There were no finer moments in my life.

Those days are gone; most of us, myself included, get our music digitally downloaded through iTunes, eMusic, Amazon or some other service, or stream our music through Pandora, RDIO or Band Camp. Music is so easily accessible that it has lost much of its magic to many of us. Why bother spending that kind of time haunting a record store when you can just Google the name of your treasure and it will be located in seconds? Who among us of a certain age can remember the thrill of first entering a Tower Records, a record store that dwarfed anything we’d known before and had just about anything and everything that was available – and if they didn’t have it by God they could get it for you in a week, tops.

In 1999, as a title card at the very beginning of the documentary All Things Must Pass which chronicles the story of what is perhaps the most iconic record chain in history, Tower Records had over a billion dollars in sales. Five years later, they filed for bankruptcy. How did that happen?

Well, the Internet happened. Music suddenly was being file shared and downloaded. Who needed to go inside an old-fashioned brick and mortar emporium? Who had the time? Besides, you could find anything on Napster for free. Why pay twenty bucks for a CD when you could get the very same quality for free? You can’t compete with free, says one talking head ruefully during the course of the film.

Competition happened. Big box stores like Wal*Mart and Target began stocking CDs in comparable qualities and sold them at cost. Tower couldn’t compete with that either. But this wasn’t all Tower’s doing; the music business itself made some incompetent decisions, focusing on music piracy. They may have won the battle against Napster but they lost the war; the major labels these days are shadows of their former selves and making a living as a musician is way harder than it used to be – and it was never easy.

&Tower grew because it was a family store, a neighborhood store. It began as a few bins in a drug store located in the Tower Theater building in Sacramento. When the proprietor’s son, Russ Solomon, decided to get in the record retail business, his father sold the bins to him and soon Russ had a couple of stores in Sacramento. Then one in San Francisco. Then another in Los Angeles.

Russ believed in expansion but he also believed in having more stock than anyone else. He believed in putting people as clerks who were people you’d want to hang out with and talk music with for a couple of hours. I remember going into the Tower Records in Mountain View, California and when the clerks found out I was the rock critic for the San Jose Metro ended up spending nearly three hours just chatting with nearly all of them in between them ringing up customers. They grilled me on various groups and styles; about some I would plead ignorance but others I knew well. When I left the store, the manager told me that I was “Tower Records clerk material.” I don’t ever recall being as thrilled about a compliment in all my life.

That family feeling carried through to the executives of the company, nearly all of whom started out working at the cash register. As we listen to their interviews, particularly Mark Viducich (he of the walrus-like moustache in the photo above) and Heidi Cotler, we get the sense that these are people who are used to speaking what’s on their mind and would be a hoot to hang out with for a few beers after work. These guys knew their market because they were their market.

Solomon’s aggressive expansion phase made Tower a global presence, particularly in Japan which was rabid about American culture (the Japanese expansion was Viducich’s call). Music being such a personal thing, they understood that it had to be treated almost as therapeutic and so it was. If music was the catalyst for change in the latter half of the 20th century, Tower Records was the company that provided the chemicals for the reaction.

Times did change and despite their best efforts Tower Records is no more. Now Colin Hanks, the actor and son of Tom, has fashioned a documentary that is a very good idea – it is going to inspire a ton of nostalgia for a lot of people ranging from the baby boomers to Gen X; in other words, the people that Millennials roll their eyes at these days. That can’t be a bad thing for the box office.

If I have one complaint with the film it’s just that the format is pretty tried and true – lots of talking heads with archival film footage interspersed with it. The soundtrack is pretty good but not as great as that which accompanied The Wrecking Crew or Muscle Shoals. That’s a bit of a problem, but one that isn’t a deal killer at least.

There are some record collectors left but most of us have reverted to digital storage. Ironically the CDs which prompted the golden era for Tower in terms of profits were also the vehicle for the doom of big record chains including Tower. Once music was digital, the obsolescence of brick and mortar record stores was assured.

Still, one can look back fondly on hours spent at Tower, Amoeba and Park City CDs and the money spent and not one dime of it do I regret. Music is as essential to life as breathing (the Japanese Tower continues to use the old Tower slogan “No music, no life”) and I can’t imagine life without it. We all have our own soundtracks and Tower was the place where many of us acquired ours.

REASONS TO GO: Classic nostalgia for aging music geeks. Engaging interviews.
REASONS TO STAY: Pedestrian format.
FAMILY VALUES: Some foul language and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While Tower Records no longer exists in the United States, they still thrive in Japan under separate ownership.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Homemakers

Mission to Lars


Mission to Lars

What a long strange trip it’s been.

(2012) Documentary (Spicer and Moore) Tom Spicer, Kate Spicer, Will Spicer, Lars Ulrich, Dr. Randi Hagerman, Jasmin St. Clair, Kerry King, James Hetfield, Janet (caregiver), Mum, Dad and Stepmum, Steve and Brian. Directed by James Moore and William Spicer

We all have dreams, no matter who we are. Even those of us who may suffer from intellectual disabilities have them. They can be great or small and some may even seem to be on the surface unattainable. There are occasions however when with the help of those who love us and care for us the most, anything can be possible – even achieving the unattainable.

Tom Spicer suffers from Fragile X Syndrome which is also known as Martin-Bell Syndrome. It’s not a form of autism, but autism can go hand in hand with it and often some of the symptoms of the disorder may well appear to be autism; in fact, Tom’s sister describes Fragile X during the film as “autism with bells on.” Tom lives in a care facility in England; he’s 40 years old and works at converting old newspapers into bedding for dogs which is a bit more complicated than you’d imagine. His mom and dad still have contact with him, but he seems to respond to his stepmom more than anyone.

His older sister Kate, a journalist and younger brother Will, a filmmaker have essentially ignored him most of their adult lives; they still see him from time to time but Tom can be difficult. One of the by-products of Fragile-X is enhanced anxiety which can cause him to shut down. He has a hard time dealing with things outside the norm and sometimes it can require a great deal of patience to spend any time with him.

Tom’s dream is to meet Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica. He shares that dream with plenty of people, but for Tom, music is something of a refuge; he turns to it when his anxiety becomes intolerable. Kate and Will decide that they should make this happen but they will have to journey to America in order to do it as Metallica was on tour of the United States at the time this was made. Kate has some contacts that might be of use and as a journalist she has no problem picking up a phone and talking to people who are used to saying “no.” Will and his production partner Moore document the journey.

First off, getting Tom on the plane is no easy matter. This is far, far, far out of his comfort zone and his first instinct is to go to the paper shed where he feels useful and can shut out the anxiety. The trip is almost over before it starts.

However, it is not much of a spoiler to say that eventually they get Tom on that plane and take him to Los Angeles where they rent an RV (or caravan for those in Britain who may be reading this) and off they go to Las Vegas, Sacramento and Anaheim, following the tour.

Tom’s anxieties continue to be a factor; loud noises are difficult for him, much more so than the rest of us when loud volumes which may be relatively comfortable for us can seem to a Fragile X sufferer to be ten to a hundred times louder than how the rest of us experience it; when noise is truly uncomfortable it can be excruciating to someone with Fragile X.

Moore and Will Spicer capture some beautiful images of the English countryside as well as of the American West, particularly Yosemite National Park where the Spicers make a brief stop on their way to Sacramento. There are times where you can’t help but admire the images on the screen.

What sets this film apart is the human element. Kate is a bit of a worrier and throughout the movie she tends to hide behind some fairly unattractive hats. She is the one who makes the connections with Metallica’s management who turn out to be extremely accommodating. Will is less of a presence here; he’s mostly behind the camera but he seems to have quite the can-do attitude.

We do hear from an expert on Fragile X who explains the disorder somewhat but quite frankly we really only get the basics. Those who are interested should Google it as there is plenty of information about it on the web. In another note of grace, the filmmakers are donating a portion of the proceeds to a charity for children’s mental health in Britain.

The subject matter may be the journey to find Lars but that’s not really what this film is about. This is about how Tom deals with his genetic disorder and how it affects his life every day. It’s also about the love of a sister and a brother who want to make a memory for the brother whose life has been in many ways more difficult than theirs that he will always treasure. It is also about the kindness of strangers. It is an unexpectedly warm and compassionate documentary and if you’re looking for something to make you feel good, you can do no worse.

REASONS TO GO: Heartwarming and occasionally heartbreaking. Some beautiful cinematography. Admirable cause.
REASONS TO STAY: Sometimes gets repetitive. Kate’s hats.
FAMILY VALUES: Some mildly bad language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Bedfellow is an actual hotel in the Tribeca area of New York.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/24/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
BEYOND THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes (effective September 25)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gabrielle
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Stonewall

All About Steve


All About Steve

Bradley Cooper finds this movie as frustrating as we do.

(20th Century Fox) Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Howard Hesseman, Katy Mixon, Keith David, Beth Grant. Directed by Phil Traill

We all are who we are; that is an unshakable fact. Sometimes, who we are falls a mite outside what most folks would consider normal. There’s nothing wrong with that but sometimes people fall so far outside of normal that they can’t even see normal from where they are. Again, nothing wrong with that – most of the time.

Mary Magdalene Horowitz (Bullock) – yes, she’s half-Jewish, half-Catholic – works as a crossword puzzle constructor (a.k.a. a cruciverbalist) for a Sacramento daily newspaper. She’s recently moved back home with dear old Mom and Dad, mainly because her own apartment is being fumigated. Mary is 40ish, and single. She pretty much has always been single. She has a nervous habit of talking non-stop using a ton of $5 words and spitting out trivial facts like they’re watermelon seeds at a country fair. She also wears a pair of shiny bright red disco boots everywhere that pretty much guarantee her that nobody will ever – and I mean ever – take her seriously.

Other than that, she’s a pretty decent-hearted woman who just needs to meet the right man, and she thinks she’s done that. His name is Steve (Cooper) and he works as a cameraman for a cable news channel. They meet on a blind date at which she is completely smitten by his charm. However, after she about rapes him in the cab of his truck at the date’s conclusion, his feelings for her are a lot less sanguine. As a matter of fact, his tiles squeal as he tries to drive away from her at warp speed. Scotty, push the engines ‘til they blow.

She loses her job after constructing a crossword puzzle in which every clue has something to do with her would-be boyfriend. With no obligations holding her back, she decides to follow him everywhere he goes from one big news story to the next, much to the bemusement of his smarmy on-camera reporter Hartman Hughes (Church) and their producer Angus (Jeong).

Along the way she is subjected to every indignity you can imagine (and a few you can’t). Now, I have nothing against putting characters in a comedy through the ringer, but some of the actions border on the cruel, like the bus driver who tricks her into getting off the bus, then drives away, stranding her in the middle of nowhere.

Part of the problem is that it’s Sandra Bullock, man. You want to like her and at times here I nearly do, but the character is so filled with quirks and ticks that you want to get far, far away from her, which is never a good thing either in a movie theater or at home.

This is a movie that should have worked and to be fair, some of it does. The cast here is one any casting director would be proud to assemble, but there’s not a lot of chemistry here. The humor is a little on the low-brow side and going for something edgy they wind up instead just make you wonder what the heck they were thinking.

There really isn’t one place to lay blame at. One gets the impression that there’s a lot of ad libbing going on, but the script and story aren’t that strong to begin with. There is certainly a good deal of overacting, kind of like silent cinema comedy in the 21st century.

This movie was bookended by The Proposal and The Blind Side, the latter of which won Bullock her first Oscar. Unfortunately, this movie also won her a Razzie, making her the first actress to win one of each in the same year. That All About Steve sat on a studio shelf for two years should have been fair warning that this movie wasn’t going to be successful. Even if you’re a big fan of Miss Bullock as I am, you’re going to find a very hard time to find nice things to say about this one.

WHY RENT THIS: A very likable cast that appears to be having a good time makes you really want to like this movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The cast tries just a little too hard sometimes to be funny and the script veers off from genuinely madcap to sincerely silly in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual innuendo but for the most part it’s harmless; you might think twice about bringing the very young (i.e. preschoolers) but otherwise this is okay for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene in which Mary is soaking in the bathtub, the song in the background is sung by Helga Bullock, Sandra’s real-life mom.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s actually a surprising amount of material for a movie many figured would get the bare-bones treatment. There’s a mock behind-the-scenes interview with the terminally annoying Kerri Kenney as an “Access Hollywood”-type interviewer and a Fox Movie Channel program called “Life After Film School” in which three film students interview director Phil Traill.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: A Perfect Getaway

The Ugly Truth


The Ugly Truth

Katherine Heigl listens intently while Gerard Butler tells her the ugly truth.

(Columbia) Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Eric Winter, John Michael Higgins, Nick Searcy, Cheryl Hines, Kevin Connolly, Bree Turner, Jesse D. Goins, Noah Matthews, John Sloman, Nathan Corddry, Bonnie Sommerville, Yvette Nicole Brown. Directed by Robert Luketic

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that men and women evolved from the same species, so vast the difference in our way of approaching things. Finding a common ground is a necessity for relationships to work, a task that can seem impossible at times.

Abby Richter (Heigl) would seem to have a great life. She’s an award-winning producer for a Sacramento morning show, much admired by her superiors and industry peers. She has a knack for making quick decisions that are generally the right ones. The same is not true, unfortunately, for her romantic life. The attributes that allow her to take control over the chaos that is her job are the ones that frighten men off. Yes, she’s a little bit neurotic but as beautiful as she is, you’d think there’d be someone willing to look past that.

Mike Chadway (Butler) is a local access cable personality (do they still have those?) who espouses theories of relations between the sexes that would do a Neanderthal proud. He’s flabby, opinionated, scruffy and a bit of a slob. After yet another disastrous date Abby stumbles on his show and appalled at the opinions of the host, calls in. He gets her to admit that while she has specific ideas of who the perfect man is, she hasn’t met anyone who fills the criteria.

As good a producer as Abby is, the chaos is catching up to her. The ratings of her morning show are tanking, and the harried station manager (Searcy) has no choice but to make some drastic changes. He hires Chadway in a move that flat-out leaves the real world behind. The loutish Chadway spends most of his first broadcast on the show psychoanalyzing the marriage of the co-anchors (Higgins and Hines) and proclaims that the relationship is on the rocks because they aren’t having enough sex. Predictably, this revelation turns the couple into a couple of horny middle-aged teenagers. This infuriates Abby, even more so because the ratings are going through the roof.

Abby’s eye, however, has fallen on the handsome orthopedic surgeon (Winter) who has moved in next door. He seems at best ambivalent about her and in desperation she turns to the resident expert on male-female relations – Chadway – to help her win her man. His instructions prove to be just the thing she needed and the relationship takes off. So does the working relationship between Abby and Chadway.

Director Luketic previously helmed Legally Blonde (two of the three female co-writers on The Ugly Truth also worked on that film) but this isn’t anywhere close to the charm displayed by his previous film. The script is by-the-numbers rom-com chick flick formula, so much so that there is absolutely no suspense as to where this will end up whatsoever. I will say that it is well-made formula, however, with some genuinely funny moments.

There is some good chemistry between the leads. Heigl is making a living out of playing uptight career women – I’d love to see her in a role that is neither uptight nor professional. Butler has an easy charm that was much evident in P.S. I Love You and continues to be on display here as the caveman with a heart of gold. So much of the movie revolves around the leads in fact that there is little for the supporting cast to do. This is definitely Heigl and Butler’s movie to make or break.

The movie is just poorly written. One gets the feeling that it went through endless re-writes and revisions until it became obvious that certain things left over from one version were not fully coherent in the final one. For example, the television station where this all takes place is said early on to be an independent station, yet they are visited by network executives which to be fair, leads to one of the funniest scenes in the movie, involving a pair of vibrating panties and a remote in the hands of a kid.

That leads to another point. Despite having been written by three women, this is raunchy beyond reason. The F-word is dropped with such numbing regularity that you’d think the F-Bomb had become a carpet bomb. Not that I mind seeing Heigl in lingerie, mind you, but it seemed unnecessary and exploitative here.

There are a lot of reasons to like this movie, and a lot of reasons to despise it. There are certainly some very talented people on both sides of the camera that worked on it, and if Heigl and Butler had been given better material, this could have been one of the summer’s highlights. Instead, it’s just a passing entertainment made bearable by its attractive stars. It’s too bad that the writers, who had previously given us Legally Blonde couldn’t have lived up to those standards but I guess everyone is entitled to a bad choice and that’s the ugly truth.

WHY RENT THIS: Some generally funny moments and surprisingly solid chemistry between the attractive leads go a long way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Poorly written, full of clichés and generally uneven.

FAMILY VALUES: Far too raunchy and potty-mouthed for kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the film’s climax takes place at the Sacramento Hot-Air Balloon Festival, no such festival exists.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Children of Huang Shi