If you look up the word "typecasting" in the dictionary, you'll find Matthew McConaughey's smirk affixed to the title " Ghosts of Girlfriends Past." Nonetheless, director Mark Waters' Lothario-learns-a-lesson comedy is better than its already sour reputation.
Riffing on "A Christmas Carol," the script concerns a caddish high-fashion photographer, played by McConaughey, who spends his days and nights lining up the femmes to be bagged and blue-binned like last week's recycling. This fast-talking snake's due for a reckoning. It is a supernatural job, arranged by the ghost of his late Uncle Wayne, played by Michael Douglas in full, misogynist Rat Pack mode. Jennifer Garner, easy to like and sharp with her timing, is the love interest, which is not the same as a rounded character. You take what you can get with the female leads in these sorts of movies.
If anyone else had played the male lead -- Daniel Day-Lewis, Liev Schreiber, Ice Cube, Cheech Marin, anyone -- "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" might've contained an element of surprise in its key performance. McConaughey has skill (see "Dazed and Confused" for a reminder), but in commercial vehicles such as "Failure to Launch" or this one, he has difficulty separating the smarm from the charm. Twenty minutes into "Ghosts," the dread creeps in.
Then, a minor miracle: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the screenwriting team that brought you "Four Christmases" (a hit, but a painful one) start bringing the funny. In a flashback Douglas nails a monologue about what he's learned about women and what he hopes to instill in his nephew. "I can't teach you algebra, or camping, or even ethics," he says. Only seduction techniques.
McConaughey approaches each new obstacle or ghostly plot development or slapstick setup as an excuse to stick to his grinning stoner's delivery, at least until the Scrooge-like thaw. Plenty of actors don't appear to be acting onscreen, yet they're thinking and acting and reacting every second. I'm not sure what McConaughey does for a living, really. I know a lot of people are mad for the guy. (I remember talking to one woman who, on the subject of "A Time to Kill," could barely form a sentence, so in lust was she.) All I can say is, despite my McConaughey resistance, I got more guilty chuckles from "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" than "Failure to Launch" or "Four Christmases."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times