Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past movie poster
MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Romance
A man is haunted by the ghosts of ex-girlfriends during his younger brother's wedding.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Breckin Meyer
Director: Mark S. Waters
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Editorial Review

In a recent riposte to the Texas governor's tea-party threat to have his state secede from the union, NPR quiz-meister Peter Sagal quipped that Texas could go, provided it leave behind "some barbecue, the South by Southwest festival and Matthew McConaughey."

It's doubtful that the host of "Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!" would have included McConaughey in his list had he seen "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."

Since his initial splash in "Dazed and Confused" as a slacker who clings to his youth by seducing high school girls, the Texas-born McConaughey has forged a cottage industry impersonating incorrigible bachelors with acute Peter Pan complexes.

So it goes with photographer Connor Mead. Modeled as a kind of sexual athlete's counterpart to Ebenezer Scrooge, Mead shuns emotional attachments and disdains marriage. He makes it clear from the outset of his brother's wedding that he is not going to validate this "archaic and oppressive" institution.

The inspiration for Connor's approach to relationships is his late Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), an ardent misogynist who counseled Connor that "the power of a relationship lies with whoever cares less." Wayne's ghost appears with a warning for his nephew to change his ways, then says that Connor will be visited by three ghosts to drive home the message.

Wayne's admonishment is followed by the specters, including the childhood sweetheart at the bottom of his childhood traumas, Jenny (Jennifer Garner), who has returned to guilt-trip him at the wedding, as one of four bridesmaids whom Connor has jilted over the years.

The relentless vulgarities in "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" would be almost tolerable if they were amusing, but Mark Waters's direction is so tentative that the film's single laugh happens more than an hour in. Nothing is more dispiriting than a would-be sight gag that has McConaughey trying to balance a teetering wedding cake with his leg. It's a misbegotten effort: How do you rescue a pastry that hasn't risen to begin with?

-- Jan Stuart (May 1, 2009)

Contains sexual content, language and a drug reference.