By the look of things, Matthew McConaughey is attempting to become the reigning king of romantic comedies. I mean, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," "Failure to Launch," "Fool's Gold," among others, and now 2009's "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," all of them pretty mediocre. Is there no end to the number of questionable projects the man will undertake? Not even its Blu-ray high-definition transfer does much to improve the situation.
The thing is, in every case these comedies seem more designed to show off the stars than to tell a good story. The movies rather beg the viewer to say, Doesn't McConaughey or Hudson or Garner look cute and sexy and appealing? Coincidentally, a day or two before watching "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," I watched the old Kevin Costner-Susan Sarandon romantic comedy "Bull Durham," a film that puts this newer effort in a bad light. "Durham" is funny, insightful, engaging, and original, everything "Ghosts" is not. Maybe it's an unfair comparison, since not every movie can hit a home run; still, you'd expect any new romantic comedy at least to try something new or fresh.
Instead, "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" updates the old Charles Dickens tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, changing only the tightfisted, coldhearted skinflint for a cynical, shallow, woman-bashing narcissist. McConaughey plays Connor Mead, a successful fashion photographer and full-time ladies' man, who beds every girl he meets and leaves them just as fast. He claims not to believe in love or marriage, and when he attends the wedding of his brother Paul (Brecken Meyer), he puts a quick damper on the happy occasion. Not only has he made it with all but one of the bridesmaids, it turns out the maid of honor, Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), a "hot, single doctor," is one of Connor's more-serious old flames.
Jenny is the only girl in the movie who doesn't go head-over-heels for Connor's charms or buy his slick line, so, naturally, we can see that she's going to be the romantic interest in the story. The question is why every other woman falls for the guy's sleazy, superficial approach. Is the movie suggesting that most women are easy or just idiots? Moreover, while the best men at the wedding are all ordinary dorks, the bridesmaids are gorgeous, curvacious young women ready and willing to jump in the sack with any guy like Connor Mead. It seems as though the filmmakers mistook the romantic-comedy genre for the teenage sex fantasy ("American Pie"), thereby surely alienating most of the genre's usual female audience. The movie can't say it doesn't have a little something in it to insult just about everyone or that it doesn't take a misstep almost every inch of the way.
Anyhow, if you remember "A Christmas Carol," you'll recall that four spirits visited Scrooge on Christmas Eve: The ghost of his deceased partner and the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future. This time out, Connor gets visited by the same kinds of spirits, starting with his dead Uncle Wayne, a rich, creepy, playboy swinger, played by Michael Douglas in a full, greying, leonine mane. Uncle Wayne raised and mentored young Connor in the ways of bachelorhood, but now that he's gone on to the next life regrets his former affaires d'amour and dissolute lifestyle. The uncle pops up from time to time reluctantly telling his protégé to give up his hedonist ways. The trouble is that by the end of the film neither of the characters, Wayne nor Connor, convinced me for a minute they had forsaken their libertine thinking. Sort of wrecks the whole point of the movie, if you know what I mean.
Along the course of events, we meet Allison Vandermeesh (Emma Stone), Connor's first, teenage sexual conquest; Sandra (Lacey Chabert), the brother's discombobulated bride; Sergeant Major Volkom, USMC, retired (Robert Forster), the bride's tough-guy dad, now a minister; Vonda Volkom (Anne Archer), the bride's comely mother; Brad (Daniel Sunjada), a handsome, unmarried man who becomes interested in Jenny at the wedding party; Denice (Amada Walsh), the lone bridesmaid who hasn't slept with Connor but intends to; and Mel (Noureen DeWulf), Connor's trusted assistant and guide to girlfriends present. It's an impressive supporting cast that does what it can with what the script gives them. The best I can say is that Forster gets the biggest laugh in the film delivering a wholly inappropriate wedding toast, and director Mark Waters ("Freaky Friday," "Mean Girls," "The Spiderwick Chronicles") seldom dawdles over inconsequential trifles (unless you consider the entire film an inconsequential trifles).
The idea of the film is to make Connor as despicable a character as possible, with no heart and no conscience, so we can rejoice in his conversion to morality. As I say, it doesn't work. The movie makes the guy so dislikable, not even McConaughey with all his exceptional charisma can help the character recover in our eyes.
There is nothing really novel or inventive in "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past." We can see practically every move, every action, every twist and turn a mile away. It's just 100 minutes of waiting for it all to play out. Although there are some sweetly sentimental moments and a suitably "aaawwww" ending, they are not nearly enough to redeem what is otherwise a fairly mean-spirited film.
New Line video engineers use a VC-1 codec to fit the 2.40:1-ratio movie and its accompanying high-definition extras onto a single-layer BD25. The results are not always as good as I had hoped. Mainly, I found the picture overly dark, with faces often too glossy. Maybe because the director filmed most of it indoors, he wanted a natural, dim, indoors look. I dunno. Definition appears slightly smeared and gritty, without much inner detail, the image sometimes looks blurred over, and darker areas of the screen seem a little murky. Frankly, while the HD picture quality is certainly sharper and the colors richer than on the upscaled standard-definition edition I used in side-by-side comparisons, the improvements are smaller than usual.
We get an English soundtrack available in regular Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossless TrueHD. In either case, there's nothing particularly special about it. The stereo spread is generally narrow, the surround activity limited, and the frequency and dynamic ranges constricted. In fairness, there is no real reason for any of these areas to be any better than they are, since the movie is almost entirely dialogue driven, but maybe I just have optimist expectations.
The Blu-ray disc comes with several bonus items not found on the standard-definition edition (which includes practically nothing beyond the movie). The BD contains, first, an eight-minute promotional featurette called "Recreating the past, Imaging the Future," followed by a four-minute featurette, "It's All About Connor," which is, uh, all about the main character and how McConaughey plays him. Then, there's the eight-minute featurette "The Legends, the Lessons and the Ladies," wherein the filmmakers and the actors look at the characters played by McConaughey and Douglas and what it takes to be a ladies' man. Finally, there are about nine minutes of additional or extended scenes. All of these features come in high definition.
The extras wrap up with twenty-five scene selections; more material via BD-Live; and a digital copy disc inscribed with the warning that the "offer is intended to be available for a limited time for discs purchased near initial release date. Offer expires September 22, 2010." So if you're reading this review more than a year from now, I guess the digital copy is void. There are spoken languages in English and Spanish, with Spanish subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired. A cardboard slipcover encloses the keep case to complete the package.
Not only had I watched "Bull Durham" shortly before sitting down to "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," I had also recently seen a quirky little indie romantic comedy called "Good Dick," finding these other films superior to "Ghosts" because at least they tried something different. They didn't rely on tried-and-true clichés, with predictable results. "Ghosts" seldom rings true, almost never producing any laughs or any romance. Seems a misnomer to call it a "romantic comedy," you know?