Directed by: Mark Waters (Mean Girls)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Breckin Meyer, Michael Douglas, Emma Stone
The question that arises from Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is whether or not Mark Waters can actually make a good movie that doesn’t star Lindsay Lohan. OK, so his Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) wasn’t bad, but it’s so out of keeping with the bulk of his work that it seems more like a footnote. The misguided and misbegotten Just Like Heaven (2005)—the rom-com version of the Terry Schiavo story (yeah, that joke may be in bad taste, but so was the movie)—was a sorry follow-up to Mean Girls (2004) and Freaky Friday (2003). Now we have a film that’s a sorry follow-up to Just Like Heaven. Even granting that it’s an uphill battle when your star is the unctuous Matthew McConaughey, this is still one lousy, unpleasant movie.
You may have guessed by the title that this is a modernized knockoff of Mr. Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol—a work with which the characters of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past must be totally unfamiliar. The idea is that Connor Mead (McConaughey) is a sleazeball, womanizing photographer who is meant to learn the error of his ways on the eve of the wedding of his brain-dead brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer, Garfield), to the shrill and unlikable Sandra (Lacey Chabert, Black Christmas). Assuming that we’re familiar with the original story line, there’s not much chance we don’t know where all this is going. Throw in the one girl he ever truly loved, Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), and there’s no chance of surprise at all.
The parties responsible for the film seem unaware of the fact that it’s pretty easy to make Matthew McConaughey look sleazy and shallow—and they apparently think the rest of us are, too. The result? They gild the lily with so much sleaze that you feel incredibly dirty. By the time they’ve finished presenting us with the callous and loathsome Connor Mead, they’d have a better chance trying to make Mussolini sympathetic.
The problem is that while Dickens’ Ebeneezer Scrooge was a mean old man, he was a memorable mean old man, with a penchant—thanks to the author—for saying cleverly heartless things, like suggesting the poor should go ahead and die “and decrease the surplus population.” Having Mead break up with three women in a conference call (while he’s in the process of bedding yet another woman), or having him knock back enough Scotch to kill a mule while weighing in on the nonexistence of love, and following this with him groping the breast of the mother (Anne Archer) of the bride makes him neither memorable nor clever. It merely makes him repellent.
Were this even surmountable, the factors that drove Mead to this level of scuminess amount to little more than Jenny dancing with some other guy at a school dance, prompting Mead to take life lessons from his sleazebag Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, who must have taken this role because Catherine Zeta-Jones was sick of him hanging around the house). To say that this backstory is lacking in persuasion is to understate the case.
From the witlessness of it all there is mild solace in the performance of Emma Stone as the actual Ghost of Girlfriends Past, a few nice visuals and an amusing bit that pays tribute to Dickens’ original when the “changed” Mead opens a window and asks a kid if it’s Christmas morning. The rest is tired slapstick, an air of cheesiness, some bad ‘80s pop songs and spurious emotion—at the service of an unlikable screenplay with a downright nasty tone. Rated PG-13 for sexual content throughout, some language and a drug reference.