Ignoring Judd Apatow's scientifically proven theory that dudes will go see romantic comedies, "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" relies instead on time-tested chick-flick formulas. The backdrop is a wedding, the pathos flows like Champagne, and the jokes are strictly on-color.
That's too bad, because the movie's womanizing hero, Connor Mead ( Matthew McConaughey), has potential as a lovable cad. A fashion photographer with a habit of bedding his subjects, Mead floats through life free of attachments save for a nagging crush on his childhood friend Jenny Perotti ( Jennifer Garner). After a botched relationship, they reconnect at the wedding of Connor's brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), and his high-maintenance bride, Sandra (Lacey Chabert).
If you hadn't guessed from the title, "Ghosts" is yet another update of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Instead of Marley, we get Connor's Uncle Wayne ( Michael Douglas), a high-living bachelor who helped shape young Connor into a pickup artist. Wearing an ascot and jauntily calling Connor "Dutch," Wayne materializes to impart a final lesson: "Don't waste your life like I did."
Thus begins a predictable journey through Connor's past, present and future. Jokes about 1980s fashion at a junior-high dance? Check. Millions of wrathful conquests converging on Connor en masse? Check. A second chance at true love? How'd you guess?
Director Mark Waters ("Just Like Heaven," another ghostly romance) barely tries to liven up the dull script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, but his main problem may be the lighting and makeup teams. McConaughey looks strangely greasy, Garner appears unusually gaunt, and Douglas has the grayish aura of, well, a ghost. It's hard to laugh along with such an unattractive cast.
Like Connor with his women, the film picks up ideas and then drops them. At one point, Connor reflects on Wayne: "I never figured out why he called me Dutch." Weirdly, neither do we.