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Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Boy Meets Girl, Boy Uses Girl, Boy Makes Amends

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

There is an audience for Matthew McConaughey’s romantic comedies -- I know this because Hollywood keeps making them -- but I am not a part of it. I have enjoyed him as a rugged, Indiana Jones-style adventurer in Sahara, and as a fast-talking agent with a conscience in last year’s Tropic Thunder. But even his low-key charisma and pearly white smile couldn’t redeem cynical exercises like Fool’s Goldor How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

By those admittedly low standards, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a cut above -- not exactly high praise, but not an outright dismissal either. Anyone familiar with Dickens’ Christmas Carol will recognize its central conceit: McConaughey, playing jaded philanderer Connor Mead, is visited on the eve of his brother’s wedding by four spirits, including that of his famously free-spirited grandfather, a Robert Evans lookalike played with gleeful panache by Michael Douglas.

Heartbroken at an early age by his childhood sweetheart (Jennifer Garner), Connor has grown into a cheap stereotype -- handsome and successful, but heartless in his treatment of the women he beds. He rails against the vilification of swinging bachelorhood -- speaking essentially to the movie’s underlying philosophy -- and cautions his brother (Breckin Meyer of Road Trip) to take flight before wedding bells ring.

What transpires later should come as no surprise: Connor gets his comeuppance in neatly efficient fashion, revisiting past relationships and wincing at his own cruelty. He redoubles his efforts to win back the love of his life, and… well, you can guess the rest.

Is it funny, as any romantic comedy should be? Infrequently, but there are moments, mostly thanks to Douglas, who seems to relish his turn as a shameless cad as a welcome change of pace from the elder statesman roles to which he has lately been relegated. And McConaughey works his wide-eyed charm for all its worth, which is appreciable.

Unremarkable in every way, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past isn’t particularly clever, and it doesn’t take any measurable risks. But it’s mostly inoffensive, and it won’t kill too many brain cells. For an audience happy to spend two untroubled hours in the dark, that just might be enough.