The only thing of note in GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST is that its star, Matthew McConaughey, doesn’t remove his shirt. Otherwise this retread of A Christmas Carol only serves to prove that a good story can be ruined with a bad retelling. For the whole redemption aspect of the story to actually pay off, the person being redeemed has to be believable as his heart undergoes the spiritually alchemical transmutation from lead to gold. With McConaughey, it’s more like one kind of cheap plastic changing into another kind of cheap plastic, neither of which are particularly appealing.
McConaughey is Connor Mead, superstar photographer and serial womanizer. Women love him, he loves them, at least temporarily, and then sends them on their way. He deals in such volume with his dating that breaking up with his latest conquest, or rather, conquests, is a group activity done via conference call. Naturally, he seems like the perfect candidate for the traditional visitation of three ghosts who will show him the error of his ways and set him on the path to a happy and fulfilling future. Alas, the script has so many errors in it that it has no time to help anyone out, and the audience is left with the reality of a filmic future replete with banal dialogue, obvious plot points, and the desperate and ultimately futile attempt to make the collapse of an unwieldy wedding cake into a hilarious laugh riot.
The cake would be for Connor’s brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), a sweet but nebbishy guy who is smitten with his betrothed, Sandra (Lacey Chabert), and dutiful about defending Connor to everyone else attending the wedding. That’s a full-time job, what with the rehearsal and nuptials taking place over a very long weekend at the country estate of their deceased Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), a womanizer of legendary stature. It was Wayne who taught Connor everything he knows about being a player. It’s also Wayne who returns from the grave to the estate’s bathroom facilities in order to save Connor from dying alone. It’s the usual routine, three ghosts visit in the course of one night, select moments from past, present, and future, and thereby ensure that Connor will be set right and realize that his first love, Jenny (Jennifer Garner), is also his one true love, thus the happy ending ensues.
Of course, Jenny is on hand as the maid of honor, and further of course, the bride-to-be has flown in the perfect man (Daniel Sunjata) for Jenny to hook up with at the wedding and for the rest of her life, and even more of course, Connor has slept with all the bridesmaids but one, and with the one he hasn’t slept with, he embarks on a faux pas that, along with the impromptu speech at the rehearsal supper belittling the concept of love, marriage, fidelity and possibly truth, justice, and the American Way, threatens to put a halt to the wedding.
For some reason never adequately explained, the first thing Connor does after being told by Uncle Wayne to expect the three ghosts is to grope the mother of the bride (Anne Archer). That out of the way, the haunting begins in earnest, with his first score (Emma Stone). She’s giggly, mop-haired, decked out in 80s chic and annoying enough to deserve a severe swatting after saying her first line. The ghost of girlfriends present is Connor’s much put-upon assistant (Noureen DeWulf), who leads him down the inevitable gauntlet of old girlfriends who coo at Conner before pawing at him. The ghost of girlfriends future is a vacuous and silent blonde with over-processed hair, bad lighting, and wearing what appears to be a billowy and over-ruched Austrian shade.
Throughout, McConaughey is never more than a millisecond away from a smirk, even when attempting to actually feel the feelings that Connor is supposed to be rediscovering. The rest of the cast are relegated to cartoon characters who are loathsome, dull, irksome or all three. The worst is Chabert who doesn’t just shout her lines, she gives them a full body slam.
For a comedy, there is little enough to find amusing, even when the filmmakers were obviously intending to go for the lighthearted with the cake. On the other hand, for sheer, and one hopes unintentional, creepy, there is Uncle Walter taking the innocent and wide-eyed eighth-grade version of Connor to a sleazy bar in order to show him how to be a pick-up artist of the lowest sort. The ghost asks where child protective services are and it’s only what is going through the audiences collective mind.
GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST isnt romantic, isn’t a comedy, and besmirches Dickens, alchemy, and the concept of a happy ending as it plumbs the depths of bad taste.