Flaky Girlfriends gives up the ghost
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Flaky Girlfriends gives up the ghost
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
Opening May 1

Noted photographer Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) does not believe in love or marriage, preferring instead to follow in the footsteps of his dearly departed lothario Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) and bed then shed as many women as possible. It isn't a life for everyone, true, but it works for him, and no alternatives anyone throws his way are ever going to convince this wannabe Casanova otherwise.

Not so fast. On the eve of his brother Paul's (Breckin Meyer) wedding to the perkily cute Sandra (Lacey Chabert), Connor is reunited with childhood best friend, and the only woman to break his heart, Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), the sight of her enough to make him perspire. On top of that, the ghost of his uncle has returned so his nephew might learn life isn't a bed covered in sexy scantily clad women, past, present and future all haunting the photographer in hopes he might change his selfish ways.

Blogger and Hollywood Elsewhere entertainment journalist Jeffrey Wells once called actor Matthew McConaughey the "king of the empties" for his endless catalog of horrific romantic comedies, and it's hard to disagree with him. Films like Failure to Launch, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Fool's Gold are so gruesomely bad, so close to unwatchable, all of them anchored by central performances from the actor so coldly calculating and queasily smug, that it's easy to forget this was the guy who once wowed us to laugh-fueled tears in Richard Linklater's 1993 modern classic Dazed and Confused.

It must be then admitted that, for all its numerous faults (and it has many), the Dickens-inspired Ghosts of Girlfriends Past uses McConaughey's baggage from all of those slick and plasticized atrocities to absolute perfection. Thanks to his own wretched filmography, he is perfect as the lecherous Connor, his snide, mannequin-like behavior so suited to the character you almost have to wonder if any acting was actually involved (let alone required) to make him come to life.

Better, all of this works to the film's benefit. The fact Connor is a horrible human being makes his transformation into something completely different and commendable kind of valid. More, McConaughey puts forth the effort to tap into this transformation, the excruciating vapidity of so many of his past performances somehow dissipating during the climactic moments. So much so, in fact, I was even reminded why I once thought this guy was someone to keep an eye on, the actor tapping into a vulnerable humanistic side we haven't seen from him in what seems like eons.

Sadly, none of the rest of this movie is worth much a whole heck of a lot. The picture is let down by an anemic script by Jon Lucas (Four Christmases) and Scott Moore (Rebound) that not only doesn't know when to quit while it's ahead, but also revels in stupidities of the most blasé kind. It also continues the sad romantic comedy trend of demeaning women even as it purports to empower them, and while not as offensive as Bride Wars or Confessions of a Shopaholic, the film comes just close enough to being so that any good will the better moments generate are quickly thrown right out the window because of it.

I feel a bit bad for director Mark Waters. The guy seems to alternate between movies I really like (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Mean Girls, Freaky Friday, Head Over Heels) to ones I just can't stand (The House of Yes, Just Like Heaven). He has talent, and even in his disasters you can't help but feel he has a visual style that's a bit outside the usual comedic norm. But I just don't think his instincts are very good, and even a couple of the films of his I due enjoy are still nothing more than guilty pleasures with annoying incongruities galore.

It doesn't help that the movie doesn't know how to edit the redundant parts out and seems to go on forever. It also doesn't do the story any favors that it has makes Garner a one-dimensional nincompoop pining for a Neanderthal. I also don't think it does anyone any good at all to see another film that treats women like image-obsessed objects who care more about their latest superficial material want than anything humanistic or personal.

On the plus side, McConaughey's willingness to take his usual screen persona of emptiness personified and turn it on its ear is certainly worth commending. I also think any chance to see Douglas cut loose and have a bit of snarky fun is worth a cursory glance or two. Additionally, cute as a button Emma Stone is having such a spectacular bit of fun as the introductory ghost teenage years lost. Her go-for-broke ebullience is infectious, and the movie loses a lot of its vitality when she finally disappears.

Not that this is enough. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past ends up being nothing more than another rom-com failure for McConaughey, and even if it is admittedly one with more highs then I'd originally anticipated, there just aren't enough of them to give this film even a Dickensian chance at redemption.