Marriage, rather than Christmas, is the object of scorn for the 21st-century Scrooge who’s forced to take stock in “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” a second-rate sex farce that ponders the weighty question of why a rich, flashy, good-looking New York fashion photographer with hot-and-cold-running babes might prefer not to get hitched. The story of how he got that way proves passably amusing at times, but this New Line hand-me-down to Warner Bros. is mostly clunky and vaguely unsavory. Matthew McConaughey-Jennifer Garner starrer might find a niche as counter-programming amid the imminent “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”/”Star Trek” onslaught, but overall prospects look moderate.
Very much like their previous outing for New Line, the dismaying (and surprisingly commercial) “Four Christmases,” Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s latest script consists of a tour of sorts through the whys and wherefores of the leads’ emotional lives. Both are medium-high-concept comedies that should have been immeasurably better worked out and written than they are, but get by due to their attractive casts and uncouth humor.
The personality of Connor Mead (McConaughey), a cocky, insanely successful Gotham shutterbug, is defined at the outset when he blithely breaks up with three women simultaneously by video conference call just as he’s nailing his latest conquest. Then it’s off to Newport for the dreaded wedding of his younger brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer) — dreaded because the merest thought of marriage sends Connor into paroxysms of horror. He’s not even polite enough to hide his disdain for the sake of his only kin, who lives in baronial splendor at a seaside mansion where most of the action unfolds.
While slurping booze and hitting on the one bridesmaid he hasn’t already shtupped, as well as the bride’s attractive divorced mother (Anne Archer), Connor encounters his long-deceased Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, channeling Robert Evans), the roguish Don Juan who raised Connor after his parents died and tutored him in the techniques of conquest and the advisability of emotional detachment.
But the old playboy’s phantom has not reappeared to reassure his protege, but rather to warn him that he’s about to be visited by the ghosts of girlfriends past, present and future, and that he’s not going to like what he sees. Thus commences an abridged journey through Connor’s erotic education, a trip that spins on his past with the one woman he let get away, Jenny (Jennifer Garner), who happens to be part of the wedding party.
The flashbacks to the teenage Connor (Logan Miller) being shown the ropes by Douglas’ roue are at least somewhat engaging, even if they could have been carried off with vastly more verbal sophistication and physical elan. Conducting the tour is Connor’s first g.f., the dizzy, frizzy-haired Allison (Emma Stone), who initiates the bashful kid after young Jenny (Christa B. Allen) ditches him for an older jock.
Amusement level slides rapidly from here on, as glimpses of ghosts two and three showing Connor how shallow he is and how awful his future will be are intercut with mostly awful scenes of the wedding weekend falling apart, graced by the continual shrieking of the would-be bride (Lacey Chabert). Denouement is hardly surprising.
Connor’s blithe disregard for his brother, whom he claims to love, and his slovenly behavior run counter to his otherwise sophisticated image, and the character in general is simply too wantonly immature to cotton to on any level. His banter with women, marked by a frankness they find bracing, provokes a certain pleasure, but McConaughey can’t supply the absolute charm that would make the guy appealing despite his noxious behavior.
Garner is OK in the limited role of Connor’s longtime object of desire, while Archer unfortunately gets sidelined after the effective scene in which she lets Connor go on and on about how he’d like to take her upstairs. It’s impossible not to enjoy Douglas with his carefully coiffed hair, dark glasses and recollections of orgies of yesteryear, but he could have knocked this characterization out of the park with better dialogue.
Production values are modest.