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Ghosts of Girlfriends Past: Spirited away



There's no shortage of classic lines in Woody Allen movies, but one of my favorites can be found in 1975's Love and Death. In typical Woody fashion, his character wonders about the existence of God. "If I could just see one miracle," he implores. "Like a burning bush, or the seas part. Or my Uncle Sasha pick up the check."

Or Matthew McConaughey star in a watchable romantic comedy, I hasten to add. Truth be told, America's movie-star version of a frat boy has only headlined about a half-dozen rom-coms, but it certainly feels as if he's been in so many, many more. Yet I'd be hard-pressed to match the titles with the plot keywords with the shapely co-stars. Was it Penelope Cruz in the desert in Sahara? Or Kate Hudson on the ocean in Fool's Gold? Or Sarah Jessica Parker as the interventionist in Failure to Launch? Or Professor Plum with the lead pipe in the conservatory?

At any rate, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past has more to offer than McConaughey's past rom-com dalliances. To be sure, it's still formulaic, disposable nonsense, but at least it benefits from a stellar supporting cast to prop up its leading player and a reliable source -- Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol -- to steer it in the right direction.

McConaughey stars as Connor Mead, a wildly successful fashion photographer who goes through women the way viewers of Titanic went through tissues. A two-week affair for him would be like a lifelong marriage commitment for most others; his relationships usually only last as long as it takes to have the women fall in love with him (some of his "courtships" have lasted mere seconds). Connor doesn't believe in love, let alone marriage, which means he's not too thrilled that his baby brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) is getting hitched -- to the high-strung daughter (Lacey Chabert) of a former military man (Robert Forster), no less. Connor's boorish behavior threatens to ruin the wedding weekend during which all the principals have gathered in one house; this party includes Jenny (Jennifer Garner), one of Connor's exes -- but more special than any of them given that they've known each other all their lives. Paul and Jenny are the only two who hold out hope that Connor can be redeemed, and that salvation arrives in the form of Connor's late Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), the consummate ladies' man who has returned from the grave to show Connor that there's much more to life than just wooing the women. To prove his point, he summons the ghosts of females past, present and future, all of whom work hard to show Connor the error of his caddish ways.

A more versatile actor would have sold this material more efficiently than McConaughey; as it stands, his tanned, bar-crawl routine allows his character to remain such an unrepentant, misogynistic creep for such a good chunk of the running time that almost all sympathy has been lost for this character by the time he finally begins to see the light. Luckily, Garner is a step (or 10) up from such vapid co-stars as Hudson and Jennifer Lopez, and she works hard to coax out his rakish charm. She succeeds more often than not, meaning a small measure of genuine warmth enters the frame during the latter portion of the film. While she (and Meyer) provide the emotion, others pick up McConaughey's slack by providing the laughs -- especially indispensable are Forster and Douglas, both amusing as dissimilar examples of aging, curdled machismo. It's fortunate director Mark Waters thought to surround his pretty-boy star with so much talent -- without their combined efforts, this wouldn't stand a ghost of a chance when it comes to offering any semblance of entertainment.

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