I apparently loved Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
See, according to the logic doled out by the monogamy-hating, scotch-addled mind of one Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey), the power of any relationship falls to whoever cares less, and my friends, I really could not care less about whether or not his boozing, cruising lothario was going to learn any magical lesson lifted straight out of Dickens. Ergo, the further I slumped in my seat while watching this mawkish, obvious, and not very funny film, the more powerful I grew in this particular relationship, and let me tell you right now: that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee, with no need for any more artificial sweetener... Connor has reluctantly come home to see his little brother (Breckin Meyer) get hitched; after all, someone's got to warn the boy away from matrimony. Connor's former flame, Jenny (Jennifer Garner), intervenes and uses the opportunity to lob quip after quip at him like so many overly scripted hand grenades, until Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) takes over. See, the late Uncle Wayne was quite the lover, and probably the worst possible role model for Connor in his most impressionable hour of youth. Now, his spirit is back in an effort to scare Connor straight into a life of wedded bliss with the help of three ghosts... you can pretty much fill in the rest.
And so a parade of clumsy slapstick, unerring homophobia, and Big Fat Life Lessons marches onward, with director Mark Waters (Just Like Heaven) melding comedic gags with visual effects as capably as ever (read: people do that whole walking-through-ghosts bit) and with screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Four Christmases) once again botching a high concept with lowbrow laughs. It's the type of script that glibly comments on a forthcoming montage without actually dodging it, and makes its first mention of safe sex by suggesting a cascade of Connor's used prophylactics falling from the sky. It's the type of film that condemns our protagonist's lifestyle, via Jenny, while making sure that the bridesmaids are all as slutty as can be. See, it's not his fault if they get their hearts broken -- it's a risk they're openly willing to take, a challenge for them to (ahem) mount.
"You're already gorgeous," he tells a conquest mid-seduction. "You don't need to be good at two things." It's advice that McConaughey himself took to heart, playing the same suave, tanned, drawling loverboy that plagued us in earlier rom-coms. The problem here is when things take a turn for the serious, and we're expected to not only believe that he change, but care when he does. From the moment that he suggests aloud that the movie marriage is "comfort food for the weak and uneducated," all that follows suggests that he too will fall into formation soon enough.
That's not a character arc, folks, it's a formula, and one that our lead cannot convince us will lead to true love instead of screen-deep True Love. What's the difference? Garner could almost tell you. Time and time again, she's left with tears in her eyes and a quiver in her voice, and for those moments, one gets a glimpse of a movie populated with real characters and not gaudy shells. If she's going to have her heart broken, at least give her someone worth crying over. The Connor she knew and loved slipped away under the horndog guidance of Douglas' Robert Evans/Hugh Hefner hybrid; to have him fall back into her arms seems like selfish wish fulfillment on the grandest scale.
Though more substantial human beings would've brought a more emotional wallop to the proceedings, they probably wouldn't be nearly as funny -- unless, you know, they were written to be. This movie wouldn't know wit if it landed in McConaughey's lap (and all probability suggests that it may already have), so many of the laughs come from the over-the-top end of the spectrum instead, with Douglas earning a few chuckles, bride-to-be Lacey Chabert (of Waters' Mean Girls) playing up her pre-ceremony neuroses to squeaky perfection, and father of the bride Robert Forster dishing out Korean War horror stories at all the worst times. Yet they are never nearly as moronic as Connor, the same Connor who -- upon first encounter with his teenage Ghost of Girlfriend Past (Emma Stone, all breathless giggles beneath a poofy wig) -- instantly presumes himself to be drunk, eagerly ransacks the stash of ceremonial champagne in order to stay drunk, and takes out the wedding cake with a single reckless pop of the cork. Yes, this truly must be the man that Jenny deserves when all is said and done.
And that's kind of my problem with the film in a nutshell: the reality ends up being harder to swallow than the fantasy, and the caricatures easier to buy than the characters. By the end of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, everyone wants to walk down the aisle; by the hour mark, though, I was all too tempted to do likewise.