Matthew McConaughey is no Cary Grant, but the star has the looks, charm, and self-deprecating good humor fit for modern assembly-line studio rom-coms. His latest vehicle hot off the factory floor, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, morphs Dickens’s holiday classic A Christmas Carol into a cautionary tale of wham-bang lasciviousness, with the actor suitably cast as a lothario forced by a trio of female apparitions to undergo a three-step recovery program on the night before his brother’s wedding. Hotshot photographer Connor Mead (McConaughey) is a Herb Ritz protégé who learned from his swinging-dick mentor Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, sporting an ascot and tinted sunglasses) that the person with the most power in a relationship is the one who cares the least. A prick who breaks up with multiple girlfriends simultaneously via video chat, Connor is an anti-monogamy boor, yet once at the nuptials for his bro (Breckin Meyer), he’s spooked by three spooks as well as Uncle Wayne, all of whom provide glimpses of the true love he squandered with lifelong friend Jenny (Jennifer Garner), who’s at the wedding serving as maid of honor and with whom Connor shares caustic repartee.
As Connor gets a rewind view of his transformation from lovesick kid to chick magnet douche, director Mark Waters only mildly tweaks his well-worn template, most notably when the ghost of Connor’s dorky 16-year-old first lover (Emma Stone) self-consciously warns him of a forthcoming montage set to Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” With the exception of a lame wedding cake-related gag, Waters mercifully forgoes doofy physical calisthenics in favor of tart banter and sweet, stolen googly-eyed glances. Still, the plot’s eventual denigration of the single life and endorsement of soul mates and happily-ever-afters is predictably rote, and suffers from its stars’ lack of chemistry, with an uncomfortable-looking Garner’s hurt smiles mainly registering as constipation. Waters’s functional, get-out-of-the-way direction keeps things brisk, but the only memory of the formulaic Girlfriends likely to linger after a night’s sleep is that of McConaughey, in flashbacks to his character’s long-haired, open-shirted ladies’ man heyday, playfully spoofing his trademarked bongo-playing, chillin’-and-thrillin’ persona.