I'm not sure what horrible wrongs Charles Dickens committed to deserve Matthew McConaughey, but the author of A Christmas Carol must have had some heavy-duty karma due him. How else to explain Hollywood's reigning pretty-boy doofus (McConaughey, that is, not Dickens) taking the Ebenezer Scrooge role in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past? A romantic comedy loosely based on the Dickens classic, Ghosts has traces of cleverness tripped up by its unconvincing and uninteresting lead.
McConaughey does his Texas surfer-dude shtick as Connor Mead, a successful New York fashion photographer and unparalleled ladies' man. His gifts of seduction are matched only by his callous treatment of his conquests. In the film's opening minutes, Connor delays his bedding of a pop music star so he can dump three separate lovers via computer teleconferencing.
Connor's playboy lifestyle is put to the test when he returns to his Newport, R.I., hometown (never mind that Texas accent of his) for his brother's wedding. At the rehearsal dinner, Connor wastes no times ridiculing marriage and commitment, lecturing his kid brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) that love "is magical comfort food for the weak and uneducated."
Connor needs to learn the error of his ways, of course. He is subsequently visited by the ghost of his deceased uncle, Wayne (Michael Douglas, suited up like Robert Evans), who taught the young man everything he knew about womanizing. Now, Uncle Wayne warns his chip-off-the-old-block nephew that he'll be visited that night by three female apparitions in an effort to save him from a future of loneliness and misery.
First up is the ghost of girlfriends past, Allison Vandermeersh (Emma Stone), a giggly, metal-mouthed 16 year old who was Connor's first conquest. Stone, funny and easily the best thing in the movie, takes the lothario for a stroll down memory lane to revisit how he missed the boat with his childhood crush, Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), who also conveniently happens to be the bride's maid of honor.
McConaughey's vacuous swagger almost single-handedly kills whatever fun there is to be had in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Self-confident is one thing, but the actor plays Connor Mead as frat-dude caricature. He doesn't project charm or seductive cool -- just self-satisfaction. As a result, the character's phenomenal womanizing success rings false -- as does the suggestion that the seemingly sensible Jenny still carries a torch for him.
Garner is adequate as the underwritten love interest, but most of a talented supporting cast has little to do. Douglas is looking a bit long in the tooth, not to mention buffoonish in his Robert Evans getup, to be a plausible Uncle Wayne. Robert Forster has the thankless task of playing the father of the bride as a gung-ho ex-Marine. Anne Archer fares even worse as his ex-wife; her main duty is to get felt up by Connor.
And yet Ghosts of Girlfriends Past occasionally reveals flashes of tongue-in-cheek wit. Screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (the team also penned The Hangover) embrace far too many romcom clichés, but they also gently tweak the genre. "What's next?" Connor asks Allison, the ghost of girlfriends past, as they revisit his early romance with Jenny. Allison answers: "Now, we're gonna watch a romantic montage of you and Jenny to Cyndi Lauper's 'Time After Time.'"
The picture could have used more such moments, but alas, director Mark Waters seems content to churn out a Matthew McConaughey vehicle. In a flashback, Uncle Wayne counsels young Connor about women, noting that "the power of a relationship lies with who can care less." Judging by McConaughey's performance, the actor definitely has the upper hand on his own movie.
Viewers can select either widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1 or a full-frame version. Aside from a few instances of minor grain and softness of image, the picture quality is first-rate, with solid details and well-saturated colors.
Audio is clear and sharp, with the 5.1 Dolby Digital making effective use of surround sound. Optional subtitles are in English and Spanish.
None are provided.
A passable but thoroughly unmemorable romantic comedy, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is another Matthew McConaughey special - cardboard characters, tired shtick and one very laidback dude.