Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/01/09 00:00:00

"For a movie about ghosts, it's lacking in spirit."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Right. So. “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” Yes. OK. We must deal with this first: Was Uncle Wayne’s house a house or a hotel? Because it seemed like a mansion, and people called it his home, and there’s a swing set out front that implies house-ness. But then we get to the bar. Alright, so he’s a drunk that would have a bar in the foyer. And maybe parts of the house have been reworked as hotel-ish to accommodate so many guests. But then we find multiple urinals and full stalls in the bathroom. Wha huh wha? Does every mansion come complete with public restrooms that serve twenty?

And what about Robert Forster playing a decorated Korean War vet with a twentysomething daughter (Lacey Chabert)? Forster was born in 1941, which means either his character was twelve when the war ended or he's playing someone older, which means at best his character was in his fifties when he became a father. That would put him in his eighties now, which makes him rather spry for his age. As his ex-wife, played by Anne Archer (born in 1947), the character seems to be at most in her early fifties, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d marry someone decades younger.

The timeline also reveals that Matthew McConaughey’s character - called Connor Mead, the sort of name that exists only in romantic comedies - was born in 1976 (McConaughey himself was born in 1969), yet was in middle school by 1983-ish. The timeline gets blurry here, as we're going by the use of REO Speedwagon and Men Without Hats on the soundtrack; I’m willing to concede that perhaps the kids at the school dance were enjoying those same tunes in 1986, but that still puts Connor in middle school several years too early, yet is the only way to work out that two years later, it’s 1988 (as marked by a reference to Poison's Open Up and Say... Ahh! album as “new”).

The rest of the timeline works out about right, mainly by being vague once again. We can imagine the gap between high school and a first accidental reunion between Connor and lifelong love Jenny Perotti (played by Jennifer Garner, who was born in 1972; we assume Jenny was born in 1976, maybe early 1977) really does take them all the way to 1999 (dialogue marks that flashback as being “nearly a decade” earlier, Jenny is now wrapping up med school, and the soundtrack gives us Macy Gray's “I Try”), although there’s no explanation given for Connor’s “gay pirate” (as Jenny calls it) attire. I’m guessing the designers heard “flashback” and instantly assumed 1970s disco, because they did not read the screenplay closely.

Could a lothario really get away with a David Cassidy haircut and a flowery shirt unbuttoned down to there in 1999? Was this supposed to be what the designers thought “grunge” looked like? Perhaps - the screenplay was originally set to film in 2003, which would’ve put the scene around 1993. (Ben Affleck was set to star, but the project got put on hold post-“Gigli.”) Maybe the scene is still set in the Eddie Vedder years, and the math just got thrown off. Again.

Doesn't anybody check this stuff?

I know, I know. It’s just a lightweight romantic comedy, nothing to be taken this seriously. But that’s sort of the point: had “Ghosts” been more fresh, more engaging, more enjoyable, all those timeframe goofs and weird mansion restrooms would be forgiven. But no. The screenplay, from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who previously teamed up for the derivative comic duds “Rebound” and “Four Christmases”) and director Mark Waters (“Mean Girls,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles”) add no flair to the proceedings, allowing things to stumble around in generic romcom mode, hoping the charms of the cast will carry the limp material through.

And to an extent, they do. McConaughey is well cast and at times quite amusing as a flippant womanizer, while Garner lends a sweetheart vibe to her love interest role. Supporters Michael Douglas and Emma Stone far even better, Douglas stealing the whole thing with oddball throwaway lines about his character’s Hugh Hefner lifestyle, Stone earning some laughs as a giddy vision of a sixteen-year-old 80s chick, complete with poofy hair and acid-wash jeans jacket. Thanks to them, “Ghosts” does work in spurts.

But only to a point. The screenplay - which rehashes “A Christmas Carol” with ghosts showing Connor the error of his philandering ways by making him relive bad break-ups and future loneliness - takes itself too seriously in all the wrong spots (only when it pokes fun of its own source material does it lighten up the way it should - although a self-mocking reference to a romantic montage fails, since we still have to sit through the crummy montage), with the Connor-Jenny romance bogged down in sentiment the film never truly earns. It also spends too much time on the subplot of the wedding between Connor’s brother (Breckin Meyer) and a fiancée (Chabert) who never stops screaming, or complaining, or throwing a fit, or being completely unpleasant - it’s a send-up of nervous brides-to-be that drives us batty.

What “Ghosts” needs is more McConaughey and more Garner. Connor’s sleaziness is enjoyable, as is his slow transformation to nice guy, but the film rarely gives the star much to do with the role; aside from a scene or two, his prickishness doesn’t go far enough, but that’s where the fun comes in. Garner, meanwhile, is stuck in an underwritten role; her Jenny needs to be in Connor’s life more, so when Connor realizes what he’s been missing, it makes more sense. As is, it’s just a quickie “well, they’re the stars, so of course they should hook up” vibe that the film can’t sell.

But really, my main point is this: the mansion. House or hotel? Doesn’t somebody get paid to check these things out?

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