“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” feels like ghosts of movies past, with a been-there, seen-that feeling that goes far beyond its familiar appropriation of the structure of “A Christmas Carol.” It is not as deep as Matthew McConaughey’s dimples. He plays Connor Mead, a photographer so fabulously successful that he captures a magazine cover with one click of the shutter, while he mesmerizes every female in a mile radius into doing all but levitating out of their clothes every time he looks at them.
At his brother’s wedding, Connor is visited by the ghost of their guardian, world-class womanizer Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who tells him he will be visited by three ghosts to help him learn about what he needs to change in his life. The first is Allison, played by”Superbad’s” very gifted Emma Stone, with a frizz of hair, a mouthful of braces, and some serious 80’s fashion victim attire. She takes him from his childhood love Jenny to the early lessons from Uncle Wayne in (1) picking up as many women as possible and (2) feeling as little for them as possible.” He relives his conquests and liaisons and his romance with Jenny (Jennifer Garner). Meanwhile, he manages to wreck havoc on the wedding plans.
The primary problem here is that the movie wants to have Connor both ways, a heartless but irresistible lady-killer who is callously offensive, breaking up with three girls at once via conference call and telling everyone at the wedding that marriage is a disaster. He’s less an emotional Ebenezer Scrooge than he is a throwback to those cads-just-waiting-to-be-tamed ring-a-ding-ding movies Frank Sinatra used to make like The Tender Trap and “Come Blow Your Horn.”
But we’ve come a long way, baby, since then, and the idea of the love ’em and leave ’em Lothario is neither as charming or as believable as it once was. Even McConaughey’s dimples can’t keep Connor from seeming more creepy than magnetic. The endless rows of women who are ready, willing, and able to do anything but act with any semblance of intelligence or dignity come across as embarrassing and sadly in need of some “he’s just not that into you” lessons. We cannot connect to the movie because it is impossible to feel any sympathy for Connor or root for his happiness. Fred Ward is nicely flinty as the prospective father-in-law but poor Lacey Chabert can’t help sounding shrill as the kind of bride who freaks out about every detail. Even the divine Anne Archer can’t do much with a cougar-role that gives her little do do but murmur knowingly. The highlights of the film are Stone’s teenage ghost and especially Garner. Her grace, elegance, and authenticity make us wish for her to do a lot better than the guy with the ghosts. And a lot better than this lackluster and formulaic script.