Note: This review does not contain spoilers, per se; however, it does assume that you are quite familiar with age-old movie clichés.
Matthew McConaughey once again steps into the role of the shallow womanizer. (What is this - the 100th time he's played this role?) Connor Mead is a celebrity photographer, and we see what a jerk he is early on when he breaks up with three separate women simultaneously via conference call. He then hops a plane to attend the wedding of his brother Paul (Breckin Meyer). It does not take long for him to offend everyone at the rehearsal dinner by pronouncing his belief that love is feeble and doesn't really exist. Connor has, of course, previously slept with all of the bridesmaids, including Jenny Perotta (Jennifer Garner). Jenny was different, though. She and Connor were childhood friends who dated for a time as adults, although she's no longer the president of his fan club, so to speak.
During the night, Connor is visited by the ghost of his late Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who once played mentor to the young Connor, teaching him how to pick up and subsequently throw away women. Emma Stone (Superbad) plays Allison, the first of three more ghosts who show up, and she takes Connor back through his dating history to illustrate what a cretin he's been all this time. We also learn that Connor's attitude toward love changed when - sniff, sniff - a pre-teen Jenny danced with some other guy at the junior high dance.
Do I need to keep going here? Even if the womanizer-finding-true-love plot weren't older than Aesop, the riff on "A Christmas Carol" would still provide you with plenty of clues as to the movie's direction.
I'm repeatedly shocked by the content of romantic comedies. So many of them send out strange messages. For almost 90 minutes of this film's running time, Connor Mead is an unrepentant misogynist. Are we really supposed to believe that Jenny can magically forgive years of boorish behavior, simply because he does one kind deed and professes his transformation at the end? Ghosts of Girlfriends Past doesn't work for a lot of reasons, but the most notable one is that you can't escape the feeling that Jenny deserves a lot better than this woman-hater. Ideally, you want to see the male and female leads end up together in a romantic comedy; if not, it all starts to become kind of creepy.
What has happened to Matthew McConaughey? After bursting onto the scene in A Time To Kill, Lonestar, and Dazed and Confused, his career went downhill fast. Time and again, the actor plays variations on the exact same character: smooth-talking, easy-going, immature ladies' man. We know from his past work that he's capable of more, so his lack of interest in showing it is perplexing. Is McConaughey good here? Perhaps he's too good; I loathed Connor Mead, and rather than finding true love, I kept hoping somebody would punch his lights out.
The other actors don't fare a whole lot better. Jennifer Garner sleepwalks through her role, which is a shame because pictures like Juno and Catch and Release show that she's got the chops to mine deeper emotions. Emma Stone is certainly spunky in her role, but the ghostly character has been envisioned as the ultimate 80's teen dork, so it wears thin quickly. Meanwhile, Michael Douglas, in both physical appearance and mannerism, is clearly channeling legendary producer Robert Evans, himself a noted playboy. The concept might have been funny…except that Dustin Hoffman already did it in Wag the Dog more than a decade ago.
There really isn't anything funny in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past - the humor veers from silly slapstick to more mean-spirited stuff - but it's the resolute lack of romanticism that put me off most. If Hollywood really wants to make a romantic comedy, how about one that features two lead characters who are good and decent people searching for love? Or, if one of them has to be flawed, how about making those flaws realistic and/or identifiable? Say Anything… got that mix right, as did Jerry Maguire and this summer's outstanding (500) Days of Summer. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, on the other hand, doesn’t have the foggiest clue what "true love" really means.
( out of four)
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past releases on DVD and Blu-Ray September 22. The DVD offers you a choice of viewing the film in either widescreen or fullscreen modes. A digital copy is included on the disc. There are no bonus features whatsoever, although the Blu-Ray is slated to have the following:
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is rated PG-13 for sexual content throughout, some language, and a drug reference. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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