Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past

2009, Movie, PG-13, 100 mins

Review

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There are only so many ways to spice up the traditional romantic comedy formula, which is probably why many of them are so dull and familiar. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past stars Matthew McConaughey as uber-famous womanizing photographer Connor Mead, a single man so entrenched in his love 'em and leave 'em lifestyle he'll use a video conference to break up with three girls simultaneously. He takes time out of his busy playboy schedule to attend his brother's wedding, where he comes face-to-face with Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), the only girl who ever truly captured his heart. Because the two have known each other since childhood, Jenny seems to be the only one who can call Connor out on his emotionally empty life and bad-boy behavior. After the rehearsal dinner -- where Connor, who hates all weddings, delivers a drunken speech about how love isn't real -- he's visited by the ghost of his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), a Hefner-esque horndog who taught Connor everything he knows about picking up chicks. Wayne tells Connor that three more ghosts will visit Connor that night. They proceed to show him his romantic past, present, and future, in an attempt for him to get over himself and recognize his true feelings for Jenny.

Mark S. Waters is the kind of filmmaker who won't screw up a good script (Mean Girls), but he's not talented enough to make subpar material tolerable (Just Like Heaven). Because this script is so paint-by-numbers, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past shows off Waters' best and worst qualities as a director. On the plus side, he trusts his actors when the material is good, allowing them to get laughs when the dialogue is genuinely funny. On the minus side, he encourages over-the-top performances in order to disguise the flat jokes and lame slapstick set pieces -- something that makes many of the characters more annoying than endearing.

But when the jokes are good -- or even just not awful -- the actors deliver. Sure, McConaughey has been typecast in this role for years, but that's because he's good at it. The man knows how to mix his trademark laid-back attitude with a hint of vulnerability that makes him appealing to both men and women who want to see this kind of movie. But it's Michael Douglas who walks off with the movie because he's got most of the best lines -- his robe-clad, highball-swigging swinger gives the movie what little fresh energy it has.

But "freshness" isn't even the point. After all, the people who want to see this movie will want it to be exactly what they expect. It's the movie equivalent of fast food -- nobody needs this to be good, just adequate. And Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is nothing if not thoroughly adequate. leave a comment --Perry Seibert

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