Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

(2009) ** 1/2 Pg-13
115 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: Mark Waters. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster.

/content/films/3600/1.jpgLet me be clear: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past isn't a good film, and it's not even a particularly great movie, but it's lively enough to qualify as a passable entertainment, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to finding its smooth charms kinda likeable. I guess that makes me a bit like the fools in the movie who, for a short time, fall for Matthew McConaughey's womanizing cad before being let down. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is the movie equivalent of a fling that you won't entirely regret but won't ever want to see again.

Though it's the kind of high concept that rules mainstream Hollywood's output, the idea behind Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is actually a good one. Take the archetypal womanizing jerk and scare him into accepting love, A Christmas Carol-style. Screenwriters Jon Lucas & Scott Moore swiftly establish McConaughey's Connor Mead as the kind of jet-setting guy who dumps three women at once by way of a conference call (in case anyone hasn't picked up the Scrooge vibe yet, one of Connor's dumpees pouts, "He fakes the love and he hoards it--like a miser"). Connor's haste is explained by his required attendance at his brother's wedding (what's a rom com without a wedding, right?), a setting that finds him decidedly out of his non-committal element. Proclaiming "Love is a myth," the insecure slickster does a piss-poor job of supporting his brother (Breckin Meyer); making matters worse, Connor must face the maid of honor, his childhood crush and former flame Jenny (Jennifer Garner).

After derailing the wedding through a series of ill-advised comments and slapstick mishaps, Connor retires to bed, where the titular apparitions (Emma Stone, Noureen DeWulf, and Olga Maliouk) set to teaching him a lesson. Filling the Jacob Marley role is Michael Douglas as Connor's Uncle Wayne, an ascot-wearing, tumbler-gripping parody of legendary Hollywood producer Bob Evans and the Hugh Hefner set. Douglas' flashback scenes temporarily make Ghosts of Girlfriends Past into a replay of Roger Dodger, with Wayne offering Connor advice that's effective at short-term manipulation of women and long-term loneliness. The supporting cast mostly disappears into the woodwork, but it's always nice to see Robert Forster and Anne Archer (as parents of the bride), and Emma Stone disappears into the role of a nerdy teen "ghost of girlfriends past" encased in braces and frizzy hair. More importantly, McConaughey, Garner, and Douglas anchor the movie with their well-honed if not particularly well-tested screen-acting chops.

It's all rather familiar (especially given the thoroughly mined source material) and at times tiresome in its cartooniness, but director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) is just a bit smarter than the next guy, and that little bit does help. Assuming an audience that's bought into the core value of commitment as, at least, an eventual life goal, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past works nearly as effectively as its source material in wringing emotional catharsis, if not thigh-slapping hilarity (the picture's biggest weakness). Since Dickens' brilliant story still ain't broke, Waters stands a chance of actually "flipping" a few cads with this one.

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Aspect ratios: 2.4:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 9/22/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

The Blu-ray of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past accurately represents the filmmaker's intents in the "A" and "V" departments. There's a distinctive, exaggerated approach to the lighting and color scheme of the film that often goes in the opposite direction of similar films. Many comedies go the uber-bright, candy-colored route, but Ghosts of Girlfriends Past offers a richer palette and deeper shadows. They come through on hi-def with "flying colors" in a nicely defined and textured image with no hint of digital artifacting. The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound is more than adequate for this comedy's demands, and occasionally roars to life with some nice and immersive effects.

While Ghosts of Girlfriends Past doesn't exactly get the deluxe treatment, a few bonus features provide some added value to the BD. First off, "Recreating the Past, Imagining the Future" (8:39, HD) gives an overview of the film, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with director Mark Waters, Michael Douglas, producer Jon Shestack, Matthew McConaughey, Emma Stone, screenwriters Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, costume designer Denise Wingate, Noureen DeWulf, and production designer Cary White.

"It's All About Connor" (4:05, HD) delivers commentary from Jennifer Garner, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Stone, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, and Douglas about their co-star McConaughey.

"The Legends, The Lessons and the Ladies" (8:00, HD) focuses on the "ladies' man" legacy depicted in the film, and the acting legacy represented by the presence of Michael Douglas. Interviewees include Waters, Shestack, producer Brad Epstein, McConaughey, Douglas, Garner, Wingate, DeWulf, Meyer, and Archer.

Lastly, the disc delivers four "Additional Scenes" (9:32, SD)—one an alternate opening and one a trimmed scene of McConaughey and Douglas banter—and a BD-Live hookup for more content.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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