Headline: Man haunted by exes.
If this doesn’t sound like a terrific concept, go watch Fellini’s 8 ½, or listen to a Leonard Cohen record. You won’t need me to tell you it’s time better spent than teasing out the shallower meanings of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
But OK, here we go. For what it is — namely, a lame rom-com update of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — this movie has the right credentials. Its script is by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who together wrote Four Christmases, and director Mark Waters is the person responsible for Just Like Heaven, a lame rom-com in which a young man falls in love with a ghost. All the elements come together.
Here, Matthew McConaughey coasts along as one Connor Mead, a womanizing fashion photographer with a loosely Scroogean attitude toward love and marriage. This guy is such an oil-slick player that he can dump three women at once via video conference call while another looks on, patiently waiting to be conquered. This guy can reply to the suggestion that “spooning is nice,” with, “Yeah, but not as nice as forking.” This guy needs to be taught a lesson.
And so, on the night before his loyal younger brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) is to be married, Connor gets an admonishing supernatural tour of his ridiculous romantic history. And maybe, just maybe — OK, certainly — he gets one last chance with Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), the unacknowledged love of his life.
The Marley to Conner’s Scrooge is his dear departed Robert Evansish uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), from whom he learned all the moves, or at least the unsettling permatan-and-too-white-teeth combo. For a little context on Wayne, consider Connor’s reverential estimation: “You know, he invented the word ‘MILF!’”
At least that’s how he puts it to the ghost of his very first conquest (Emma Stone), an awkward, acid-washed and brace-faced spaz who apparently died not long after they hooked up. If only the movie dared to go into details about how she died.
But it’s clear early on that for a film about a sex-fiend, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is weirdly, dully, disingenuously chaste. Jenny’s empty PG-rated threat to cut off Connor’s “favorite appendage,” for instance, only reminds us that a job like that needs a much sharper edge.
And then there’s Connor’s defense of bachelordom: “Every night I swim in a lake of sex,” he says, and somehow the movie manages not to acknowledge how disgusting that image really is. It comes closer in one scene where Connor gets rained on by a shower of “all the lady tears that have been shed for you,” followed by “all the condoms you used,” but cuts away before actually showing us the latter. Not that we needed to see it. Not that we needed to see any of it.
Better headline: Suck My Dickens?