There’s something a little strange about the poster for “The Ugly Truth,” and the sight of the stubbly, gruff face of Gerard Butler, affecting a sly grin and brandishing a heart at groin-level. This is the guy who carried “300” on his back (and maybe his washboard stomach) and, through sheer badness of his assness, inspired as many teenage boy quotations as any movie since “Austin Powers.” In the interim, he’s starred in Guy Ritchie’s crime caper “RocknRolla,” and he’ll next appear in “Gamer,” a film about a super soldier who becomes part of a dystopic video game. But for the moment, here he is in a romantic comedy. King Leonidas probably would have stabbed this dude right through his heart-crotch.
Butler’s a veteran of movie musicals (“The Phantom of the Opera”) and romances (“P.S. I Love You”) but he’s at his best — and certainly best known — as a man of action, and his appearance in a screwball romantic comedy is interesting (if not, shall we say, promising looking) against-type casting. Of course, Butler isn’t Hollywood’s first manful stud unafraid to showcase a softer side. Here are five other noteworthy examples:
What Women Want (2000)
Directed by Nancy Meyers
Nick Marshall is what “What Women Wants” calls a “man’s man.” A chauvinistic, philandering cad, he’d much rather grope a woman’s feminine side than get in touch with his own. So, naturally, that’s exactly what Nick is forced to do when he’s electrocuted and discovers he’s been given the magical ability to read women’s thoughts. Nick is played by Mel Gibson, and the movie milks the incongruity of the macho actor going soft for everything it’s worth. In “Lethal Weapon 2,” Mel cackled with glee as he dislocated his own shoulder just to win a few bucks in an office bet. Here, a brief flirtation with leg wax elicits yelps of agony.
Gibson had done the occasional romantic comedy before (like 1990’s “Bird on a Wire”) but never one without the crux of guns and explosions, and certainly not with this level of emasculation — can you imagine Mad Max apologizing to a woman he’s wronged by telling her she “dazzled” him? Elvis Mitchell once wrote that Gibson had played martyr “more often and more photogenically than anyone since Joan Crawford.” For an actor famously in love with the idea of his own suffering, trashing his onscreen virility may have been the ultimate sacrifice.
The Quiet Man (1952)
Directed by John Ford
Halfway through “The Quiet Man,” flame-haired Irishwoman Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara) asks, “What matter of man have I married?” Sean Thornton (John Wayne) is a barrel-chested ex-pug from Pittsburgh, reclaiming his family’s small plot of land in Innisfree. A classic American entrepreneurial type, he’s used to instant gratification. So when he espies the bad-tempered Mary Kate herding some sheep over a lush green pasture, he puffs up his bravado and swoops in for love. He immediately scrapes up against the town’s rigid courting traditions (no touching!), and blunders into a feud with her brother Will (a harrumphing, red-faced Victor McLaglen). O’Hara is coy and cunning all at once, galloping around Wayne with athletic (and flirtatious) abandon before stridently abiding by the courtship book. Wayne lets his macho insecurity burn low, impetuously stealing some kisses but playing obediently by her rules. That is, until O’Hara withholds her bedroom favors and flees the emerald coop. Then the quiet man blows up in the hilariously raucous close, where director John Ford, Wayne and O’Hara pack in so many Irish hay-makers and blarney humor it would choke the Lucky Charms leprechaun. And it’s glorious.