Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (New Line Cinema, PG-13)

film_ghosts_sm.jpgThe concept is mucked up, by the way, as the "ghost" of a present girlfriend is hardly that; she’s one of Connor’s employees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blending romantic comedy elements into the basic plot of A Christmas Carol must’ve seemed like a good idea at the time. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past has been kicking around for awhile; Ben Affleck was originally supposed to topline, but now the thankless role of oafish, woman-baiting cad Connor Mead goes to Matthew McConaughey, and he plays it awful darn convincingly. The story, scripted by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore and directed by Mark Waters (Just Like Heaven, Mean Girls), is intended as a tale of comeuppance for the insufferably smug Connor, who views women as little more than occasionally challenging diversions.

Connor boasts that he can have any gal any time he wants, and that he’s learned the requisite ‘tude for his conquests from his revered Uncle Wayne (a slumming Michael Douglas). The old veteran says things like "Dames are like horses; they spook easily," and "The power of a relationship lies with whoever cares less." His uncle is dead, of course, but appears in Connor’s life after he’s made a mockery of the wedding rehearsal of his brother Paul (Breckin Meyer), offending just about everyone, especially the bride, Sandra (Lacey Chabert) and her maid of honor Jenny (Jennifer Garner), with his crass dismissals of love and the institution of marriage. Wayne therefore thinks that Connor isn’t in the spirit of the thing, so he sends a few of his own—spirits, that is. Hence that Christmas Carol deal: Our pathetic antagonist must endure visits from girlfriends past, present and future.

The concept is mucked up, by the way, as the "ghost" of a present girlfriend is hardly that; she’s one of Connor’s employees. But teenage Allison (Emma Stone) is definitely a ghost, a kicky, braces-wearing misfit from Connor’s past who takes him on a guided tour of where he went wrong with the opposite sex. Stone, by the way, is fast gaining a rep for injecting vibrant energy into second-rate films, and she’s a delight here. The basic premise is that young Connor blew a chance to capitalize on his crush on childhood girlfriend Jenny. We see him taking a snapshot of her on a swing, telling her he’ll always keep it with him wherever he goes. Young Jenny is played by Kasey Russell, teenage Jenny (in an amusing ’80s-themed dance scene later on the time travel "tour") by Christa B. Allen, and it’s worth mentioning that Allen also played the younger version of Jennifer Garner’s character in 13 Going On 30; that’s how spot on the resemblance and age-appropriate authenticity are between the two. The younger actresses are charming, but it’s Garner’s adult Jenny that makes the biggest impression, as she’s able to one-up Connor when necessary as well as express the hurt always simmering below the surface for the way Connor—the formerly sensitive version of the pig he became—left her behind and trivialized her affections.

So what we have here is a tale of redemption, as the spooks must show bad boy Connor that chicks are more than playthings, and that maybe he shouldn’t have treated Jenny that way. Plot elements are added revealing that, after a family tragedy, Connor had to take care of his brother growing up, and that’s he a big-time photographer (once did a stint with Herb Ritts!), but mostly what’s on screen are scenes of Connor messing with females, interfering with his brother’s wedding, and supposedly learning what love’s all about from Douglas and his trio of ghosts with the most—or least, as depicted here.

Yeah, it’s amusing at times, but it’s hard to buy McConaughey’s performance; he seems to be playing himself, then just "acting" barely enough in the later scenes to convince you he’s changed. Douglas acts like he’s checking his pocket continuously to make sure he still has the dough he pocketed for this flick. And little Ms. Chabert is so peculiarly eccentric in her delivery that she seems to have wandered in from a much funnier comedy somewhere else. So that leaves Stone—very good; Meyer—with his usual low-key gravitas; and Garner, who is almost always lit from within and lovely; count me as a fan. But this film is far too formulaic and slapdash to spook up much box office, methinks. It doesn’t have much insightful to say about men or women, but it’ll certainly show up in future discussions of the various ways Dickens’ class ghost story was interpreted/mishmashed for various target audiences. | Kevin Renick

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