'Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past': Payback, By Kurt Loder

Matthew McConaughey stars, Emma Stone takes over.

In a time of tight money and ridiculous ticket prices, [url id="http://www.mtv.com/movies/movie/302853/moviemain.jhtml"]"Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" [/url] offers a tempting opportunity to save yourself 10 bucks. The movie aspires to nothing beyond its flat premise — it's "A Christmas Carol" with Scrooge replaced by a clueless womanizer in need of comeuppance. But the picture has some laughs, and a couple of punchy comic performances, and rom-com fans, so often under-served, could do worse.

Matthew McConaughey plays Connor Mead, a New York fashion photographer so famous he only needs to saunter into a shoot after everything's been set up (lights, camera, bosomy models), press the shutter release and — click — his job is done. Connor is so awash in adoring women that he has to break up with them in groups, via laptop video conference. He agrees to drive up to Connecticut to attend the wedding of his younger brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) mainly so he can service whatever bridesmaids are on hand whom he hasn't already nailed.

Also on hand, however, are Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner), the childhood sweetheart he never had the good sense to stick with, and the ghost of his late Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) — the man who set him on the path to horndog-hood with advice like, "The power in any relationship lies with whoever cares less." ("He invented the word 'milf,' " Connor says admiringly.) Wayne has belatedly seen the error of his earthly ways, though, and now, back from the beyond, he's arranged to have three ghosts visit Connor over the course of one night and try to wise him up, too.

The movie takes off with the arrival of the first ghost, Allison, a teen throwback in ratty red hair, scrunchies and braces, who's played with gleeful abandon by Emma Stone ("The House Bunny"). Allison was Connor's first hook-up, at a high-school dance ("We dated for the next 39 minutes!"), and Stone has such an exuberant comic presence that we kind of wish the movie would just follow her and forget about the self-infatuated Connor (a character McConaughey inhabits with unsurprising expertise).

Another lively presence in the film is Noureen DeWulf, who layers the role of ghost girl number two, Melanie, with smartly underplayed sarcasm. (Mel is actually Connor's worked-to-death assistant, and she's about had it — not only does she slave for this guy all week, now she has to spend her weekend acting as one of his spirit guides. It's best not to think too hard about this.) Lacey Chabert brings a surge of ditzy energy to a few scenes as Sandra, the bride-to-be; and of course Michael Douglas carries off the Scotch-sipping libertine Wayne with an old pro's expansive ease. (He also anchors the movie's best scene, when Wayne, standing outdoors with Connor, triggers a downpour of rain, and explains that it represents all the "lady tears" that have been shed over his narcissistic nephew. Then he brings a bunch of other stuff pouring down, which is pretty hilarious.)

Despite the best efforts of all these people, though, Matthew McConaughey is still the star of this film, and the better he is at playing Connor as a self-infatuated sexual predator, the more off-putting the character becomes. (Garner's Jenny, meanwhile, has little to do but wait around for him to come to his senses, allowing the actress to demonstrate her appealing sweetness, and to get off some tart line readings, but not much else.) The picture is boxed-in by its concept. The one-joke setup is cute, but the plot mechanics are familiar and we know the punch line in our bones. When Connor says, toward the end, "I'm an empty, lonely ghost of a man," he might be speaking for the movie itself.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's review of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."

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