New Line // 2009 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // September 30th, 2009
You can't always run from your past.
Matthew McConaughey returns to the lucrative romantic comedy goldmine with Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Though previous efforts, Fool's Gold and Failure to Launch, were both critical duds, they attracted sizable crowds at the cinema. This suffered the same fate, so the question for newbies of this micro-genre of McConaughey romances is, who's right, the critics or the masses?
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a modern re-imagining of the Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol, in which the miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who teach him to be more generous.
In Ghosts of Girlfriends Past the Ebenezer character is Connor Mead (McConaughey), a fashion photographer who effortlessly sleeps with all his female models, as well as just about any reasonably attractive female who gets within a few feet of him. Not surprisingly, Connor leaves a trail of broken hearts in his wake; also not surprisingly, Connor cares not at a wit about the emotional damage he inflects on the one-time objects of his affection. That is, until he attends his brother's wedding and is visited by the ghost of his late Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, Wall Street), a mentor who taught Connor everything he knows about womanizing. Uncle Wayne warns Connor that he will be visited by three ghosts of his girlfriends. Sure enough, three female apparitions do appear, causing Connor to reconsider his search-and-destroy method of courtship. In a shocking coincidence, Jenny (Jennifer Garner, Juno), Connor's first love, also happens to be at the wedding, and she might be just what Connor was searching for all along.
In describing the classic Seinfeld character Kramer, the show's co-creator Larry David said he's either a complete idiot or a zen master. The same could be said of Matthew McConaughey. Unlike many movie stars who parlay their success and increased leverage into challenging, showcase roles, McConaughey seems more concerned with finding parts where he doesn't have to work too hard and can take his shirt off. Consequently, his movies aren't very good, but he exudes so much charm it's hard to hold that against him.
Not so with Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Like many of the recent additions to the McConaughey oeuvre, it's not good, but this time he doesn't emerge unscathed. Though he's played a cad before -- just look at his most iconic character, Wooderson in Dazed and Confused -- Connor Mead is such an unredeemable lout, it's difficult just to be around him for an hour and a half, much less root for him, as the movie expects us to. Connor's easy redemption undermines what a damaged human being he is, and the pain he inflicts on others, including his own brother. And if we root for Connor, what are we supposed to think of the scores of women who fall for his arrogant come-ons -- and ignore his borderline psychotic disregard for other people's emotions? I grant that McConaughey is good-looking guy, but taken at face value this film presents women as lacking any sort of agency for themselves.
Of course, this is a romantic comedy, so one probably should grant it a certain amount of artistic license. That would be easier to do, if there was any comedy or romance in the movie. Aside from an amusing gag where Connor knocks over a wedding cake, the movie delivers very few laughs. As for the romance, I would chew Connor's face off before allowing my sister to marry him, so I was hardly hoping he and Jenny could work things out.
The Blu-ray presentation of The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is fair at best, but at least there's nothing glaring to distract from the viewing experience. The 2.40:1-ratio film is presented in 1080p, though the picture is not as sharp as I've grown to expect from Blu-ray. Then again, there isn't much to show off, as almost the entirety of the film takes place indoors, but the dull colors -- especially the dark browns -- and lack of fine detail don't do the movie any favors. The sound is unequally unimpressive, and unobtrusive. With a dialogue-heavy soundtrack there is little to show off the Dolby Digital 5.1 or TrueHD presentation.
The film has a small pile of extras, and many of these don't appear on the regular DVD. These include a series of short featurettes, with only one of them, "The Legends, the Lessons, and the Ladies," worthwhile. This one features McConaughey and Douglas breaking down the moves of a ladies' man; any information on this front from the husband of Catherine Zeta-Jones is valuable information, indeed.
There are also nine minutes of additional scenes, which offer nothing of interest, but at least they're in HD.
Lastly, the Blu-ray comes with a digital copy on a separate disc and is BD-Live enabled.
I am far from a aficionado of the romantic-comedy genre, but in my experience there are far more bad romantic comedies than good ones (which includes When Harry Met Sally and then, um, hmmm...). So if I had to grade this on a romantic-comedy curve, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past wouldn't be so horrible. That is to say, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is like a slap across the face compared to Serendipity's blunt end of a hammer against the skull.
There are some talented people in this film. Jennifer Garner and Michael Douglas -- and, to a lesser extent, Matthew McConaughey -- so it's especially disappointing that this is just another mostly mindless romantic comedy. Sure, there might be an occasional chuckle or two, but there isn't anything here for someone who wants to actually remember the movie they saw two weeks later.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy
* Official Site