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November 2009 SITE MAP   SEARCH

The Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past
cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Robert Forster, and Lacey Chabert

director: Mark Waters

96 minutes (12) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield
Romantic comedy is a genre with persistent popular appeal, but it lacks substance, and is frequently dismissed, usually deservedly, by critics as disposable 'chick flick' material. TV sitcoms like Friends, which for years had wrung out and freeze-dried every shallow plot twister and lamentable cliché of relationship drama, are at least partly to blame for the pigeonholing of lacklustre rom-com as 'date movie', or time-wasting midweek cheap-DVD rental fodder.

Here, we have Matthew McConaughey (capable of much better acting) as glamour photographer Connor Mead, a womanising jerk who is forced to see, if never quite convincingly comprehend, the gross errors of his chauvinistic ways. Attending his younger brother's wedding, our shameless philanderer hits on the bride's mother (Anne Archer), and wolfishly stalks the bridesmaids, while attempting and failing to win back the affections of ex-lover Jenny - who is not so much 'the one that got away' as a former childhood sweetheart that, once bedded in adulthood, he simply abandoned. With the nuptials of Paul (Breckin Meyer) and anxious Sandra (Lacey Chabert) due the next day, distinctly unromantic dinner guest Connor gets a quite unwelcome evening visit from deceased lothario, Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who - in some lengthy flashbacks - was teenage Connor's playboy inspiration and disquietingly unsavoury mentor. Now, though, a repentant Wayne suggests tactless Connor should pay close attention to episodic hallucinations and timely warnings when the hauntings by scored and scorned women begin.

Jennifer Garner plays Connor's lost love Jenny with as much girl-next-door charm as she can muster but, as in Gary Winick's forgettable timewarp/ 'body-swap'/ lost-childhood farce, 13 Going On 30, Garner's acting talents are clearly wasted on this insultingly feel-good material. Since graduation from J.J. Abrams' TV series, Alias (2001-6), Garner has practically squandered her stardom and considerable appeal on mediocre pictures. Apart from her career glitch as the heroine of Daredevil, and its sadly unremarkable spin-off Elektra, it's only in Peter Berg's gritty anti-terrorist thriller, The Kingdom, that we find Garner on top form - as a US federal agent sent to the Middle East, an obvious variation of her starring role as super-spy Sydney in Alias.

The leads make a reasonably good job of their numerous romantic scenes together, but there is precious little genuine chemistry between them. Neither McConaughey nor Garner light up the screen here. Connor's lifestyle challenge necessitated by the taunts from a legion of his ex-girlfriends promotes the conscience that he really did not know he even had. However, the chorus-line of supposedly heartbroken women that confront unfeeling Connor and magically transform him - from unsympathetic bounder to a faithful suitor for quietly lovelorn Jenny - is merely a redemptive story device, and a blatantly manipulative one. This movie's empty riffs on the Christmas Carol baloney of the main character's past, present and future walk-through scenes generate only feeble interest in their illustrative and morally instructive nature.

The deconstruction and moral reconstruction of ego-driven Connor via tales of woe from distraught femmes, the obligatory recognition of his absolutely caddish faults and impolite behaviour towards his brother's plans for happiness, all seems wholly inadequate to explain a sudden attack of traditional chivalry before the predictable, and multiple, closures. The finale's angelic apparition is particularly inexplicable in a film that underplays its supernatural plot angles in favour of convoluted rom-com narrative with little purpose except for a couple of faintly amusing embarrassments for McConaughey's wayward protagonist. Any humiliations are forgotten, instantly, as the scripting trips head-over-heels towards maudlin family-sized happy endings.

Although director Mark Waters (Freaky Friday remake, Mean Girls, Spiderwick Chronicles) succeeds in keeping Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past ticking over neatly, if not nicely, the movie is lightweight fluff, with ultimately negligible entertainment value, as either supernatural farce or dreamy love story. It's marginally better than stuff like Stephen Belber's dreary Management, and just about on a par with Diane English's disappointingly timid remake of The Women, but never even approaches anything like the kooky flair of Paul Soter's quirky Watching The Detectives, which paired Lucy Liu with Cillian Murphy, and - on every level except, perhaps, GOGP's slick production values - is far superior filmmaking to this box-office miss.

DVD extras are limited to a short batch of deleted or extended scenes, and a trailer.

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