Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 10, 2009)
If there’s a less ambitious actor in Hollywood than Matthew McConaughey, I can’t think of him. McConaughey seems to play nothing more than cocky studs in romantic comedies. Even when he broadens slightly into more action-oriented movies such as or Sahara, he continues to take on parts in which he a) comes across as arrogant and self-absorbed, and b) takes off his shirt a lot.
2009’s Ghosts of Girlfriends Past seems like such a cliché “McConaughey Vehicle” that it borders on self-parody. Connor Mead defines “love ‘em and leave ‘em”. He’s such a cad that not only does he dump three women at once, but he does so via a teleconference. When Connor attends his brother Paul’s (Breckin Meyer) wedding, he does so out of a sense of morbid obligation, though he still hopes to convince Paul to stay single and avoid the horrible fate of matrimony.
When he gets to the wedding, though, Connor’s life takes an unusual twist. He learned his roguish ways from his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), and his uncle’s ghost comes to him to convince him to change his ways. Wayne warns Connor that three ghosts will visit him and show him his sins. Accompanied by various spirits, Connor journeys through time to see his interpersonal relationships over the years and where he went astray, especially as his connection to bridesmaid Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner) works.
Earlier I accused Ghosts of being a by-the-numbers romantic comedy, I suppose that’s not entirely true. It’s a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that rips off A Christmas Carol. I guess that makes it a little unusual, as it’s rare to find something that reworks Christmas Carol but otherwise has no holiday connection; Ghosts takes place in the winter, but it otherwise lacks a Yuletide link.
And it otherwise lacks any real originality. The Christmas Carol link gives the film a couple of minor self-referential laughs, but it can’t really spice up what is essentially a standard romcom, especially since the film takes so many odd liberties and boasts so many inconsistencies.
In that vein, I planned to pounce on Ghosts for its casting of McConaughey and Meyer as brothers separated by only five years. I still think of Meyer as playing high school kids, and I believed he was substantially younger than McConaughey. As it happens, he’s exactly five years younger, so score one for accuracy.
Unfortunately, other chronological liberties make less sense. Paul’s fiancée Sandra looks to be mid-twenties, which is logical since Lacey Chabert was 26 when they shot the film. However, it gives her a father who fought in the Korean War! Last time I looked, that conflict ended in 1953, so that’d make her dad mid-seventies. Sure, guys still have kids at 50, but it still seems like an odd choice to make, especially since Robert Forster was just 12 when the war concluded. The writers do it solely so they can throw in some combat jokes, but they’re not worth it.
That’s a minor liberty, but the more perplexing one comes from Jenny’s age – and her presence as maid of honor period. Jenny is clearly a good 10 years older than Sandra and her bridesmaids, but the film makes no attempt to explain this situation. In fact, unless I missed it, the movie never tells us why Sandra is friends with Jenny in the first place.
As we learn, Jenny and Connor grew up together, but they split up about 10 years prior to the film’s events. So how does Sandra even meet Jenny, much less become close friends with her? It makes absolutely no sense.
Except in the contrived world of the romantic comedy, where Jenny and Sandra must be friends so Jenny can reconnect with lost love Connor. It’s a feeble device that seems pretty useless. Surely the writers could’ve found a more logical way to connect all the parties.
But there’s not a lot of logic here, as even for a comedic fantasy, Ghosts doesn’t bother to ground itself. At least the cast adds some spark to the proceedings. McConaughey seems a little more invested than usual – heck, he doesn’t even get shirtless until the flick’s midway point! – and Garner brings some depth to her underwritten role. Douglas slums as Uncle Wayne, but he plays the part as a combination of Jack Nicholson and Robert Evans, so he brings a playful touch to the flick.
All of that combines to make Ghosts a perfectly watchable romantic comedy, and it goes by painlessly. To be honest, that’s more than I expected from it, and it’s more than we usually get from the average McConaughey vehicle. Don’t expect anything inventive or memorable, though.