“That’s what I love about these high-school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” That one line in Dazed And Confused, delivered in a lazy drawl that’s part Texas and part beach bum, is probably the reason Matthew McConaughey was anointed a Hollywood star. And yet 16 years later, it seems that casting directors (and perhaps McConaughey himself) have forgotten that McConaughey’s easygoing charisma smoothes over a sentiment that’s creepy, predatory, and even a little pathetic. Remember, here’s a guy who’s probably been out of high school for 10 years, and he’s still putting the moves on 17-year-olds. Chief among the disappointments of the new romantic comedy Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past is that McConaughey plays an upscale version of his Dazed And Confused character—an unrepentant skirt-chaser of too advanced an age—yet that creepy edge has been filed off again. Without it, he’s just another pretty boy with a Peter Pan complex.
The umpteenth misappropriation of A Christmas Carol—call this one Charles Dickens’ Tool Academy—Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past stars McConaughey as a magazine photographer who beds most of his models and just about every woman he comes across. His commitment to bachelorhood has left a lot of broken hearts in his wake, and it threatens to leave two more when he heads to the family estate for his brother’s wedding. Only bridesmaid Jennifer Garner, his childhood sweetheart and former lover, can help keep him in check. After a visitation by his late uncle Michael Douglas, who warns him about the lonely path of the ladies’ man, McConaughey takes the Dickens tour, as the ghosts of womanizing past, present, and future show him the error of his ways.
You don’t have to be a Dickens scholar to know exactly where this story is going, thanks to the many ghosts of formulaic romantic comedies past, but at least Douglas has a good time bringing the smarminess that McConaughey so studiously avoids. And in any case, why bother with Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past when Neil Patrick Harris plays the same type to perfection every week on How I Met Your Mother? Granted, Harris’ character isn’t under any obligation to change his ways, but he’s turned womanizing into an art and a grand philosophy, all while suggesting a soul capable of reform. McConaughey can’t handle either side of the equation.