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Review: 'Ghosts of Girlfriends Past'

Matthew McConaughey's latest romantic comedy hauls out all the clichés and dumb dialogue for a predictable end.

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / May 1, 2009



Just in case you can't get enough of the romantic comedy oeuvre of Matthew McConaughey, Mark Waters's "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is here to remind you that, yes, some films of his are even worse than "Failure to Launch," "Surfer, Dude," and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." It's not McConaughey's fault, exactly. He's an OK actor and he's amiable enough. In the Golden Age of Hollywood he probably would have had a high old time performing in swashbucklers or war movies or westerns. The famed glamour photographer George Hurrell would have taken some mean shots of him in a tux.

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But this is not then, folks. Would-be snappy romantic comedies need snappy scripts. Few things in the movies are more dispiriting than watching movie stars get all googly while spouting dialogue that wouldn't pass muster on a routine sitcom. And that's pretty much the case with "Ghosts," which even has the temerity to lift a few leaves from "A Christmas Carol." I guarantee you, if Charles Dickens were alive today, he might well be writing movies but he sure as shootin' wouldn't have written "Ghosts."

McConaughey's Connor Mead is a renowned fashion photographer and world-class Lothario who thinks nothing of utilizing a conference call to break up with multiple girlfriends. When his kid brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) invites him to his wedding at the swank Rhode Island estate of their late Uncle Wayne, Connor tries to bust it up. He doesn't want his brother to wreck his life.

Of course, all this misogyny is so prettified and harmless that Connor never comes across as a woman-hating boor. On the contrary, he's a charming rake, and never more so than when he's putting the moves on the bride's mother (Anne Archer), who, fortunately for all of us, has Connor's number. The bride's father, Sarge (Robert Forster) is no walk in the park, either. (The lift here is not from Dickens but from Robert De Niro's martinet in "Meet the Parents" and its sequel – not exactly high inspiration.)

Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who makes Hugh Hefner look like a Trappist monk, shows up as a ghost to give Connor some startling advice: Don't waste your life catting around the way I did. And just to rub it in, Connor is visited by two girlfriends from his past and one from his future (his future, that is, unless he shapes up).

You'll be surprised to learn that Connor, beneath the raffish exterior, is really a puttytat. Worse, the love of his life is right there at the wedding, only he's too dense to realize it. That would be Jenny (Jennifer Garner), maid of honor, childhood friend, and jilted ex-girlfriend. In flashback we see how good these two were together before Connor flew the coop.

It's a foregone conclusion that Connor will find his way back to Jenny – or else why make the movie? How they get back together should be artful, surprising, funny, sexy, romantic. Not, as in this case, sodden, klutzy, obvious, dumb. The only real suspense is figuring out whether the gag reel over the end credits will be funnier than the movie itself. I didn't stick around long enough to find out. Grade: D+ (Rated PG-13 for sexual content throughout, some language, and a drug reference.)

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