The actor is a global star with actual talent and loads of charm (he's fun in Dazed and Confused and dreamily charismatic in A Time to Kill). Yet, for some reason, he has spent the past decade or so skating by in major-studio films that all pretty much resemble each other. Typically, the only thing that varies from one reductive and formulaic McConaughey rom-com to another is his leading lady. Every so often, another actress steps in for stalwart Kate Hudson to portray the generic straight woman to his man-child cad.
It's been disappointing to see a guy who possesses the very elusive "it" factor squander it, but now he's actually getting on my nerves. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past indicates that whatever it was that made his smarmy characters a little lovable is now completely tapped out. To see what I mean,
McConaughey seems so icky and lecherous in this movie that you forget how good looking he is. Even his Texas accent, once so adorable to me, can't save him . . . because his character is supposed to be from the East Coast! That's just lazy. But maybe this will be a wake-up call that the time has come for McConaughey to shake it up a bit and do something unexpected (that doesn't involve surfers). Or not.
Anyway, the movie's concept has some potential: I kind of like the idea of using supernatural intervention, a la Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, to reform a toxic bachelor. In fact, with a different script, this could have resulted in a witty romp, especially if it had a charming, Clooney-esque type at its center. Instead, we meet Connor Mead, a high-flying fashion photographer who in the span of about 15 minutes breaks up with three women simultaneously via video chat and sexually humiliates a character played by Christina Milian, who naturally digs that kind of thing and proceeds to hop onto his lap in her underwear. Romantic, huh?
The only evidence that Connor has a heart is his affection and commitment to his brother, whose wedding he attends despite his distaste for marriage. Once there, he wreaks havoc in a most unfunny way and is downright mean teasing his ex-girlfriend — I mean, one true love — Jenny, played by Jennifer Garner (who looks both adorable and embarrassed to be in this movie). Eventually, Connor gets a visit from the best part of this movie: his sexist and dead Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas). Yes, Uncle Wayne has come to warn Connor that being a d-bag and not finding love results in an empty funeral. Douglas is a treat to have on screen and could teach McConaughey some things about how to play a slimy misogynist with verve.
Garner's Jenny is good with the psychoanalyzing one-liners, and the actress has good timing. Jenny's supposed to be the kind of sharp, down-to-earth, quick-witted woman who's happy to call Connor and Uncle Wayne on their crap. In another, much-better movie, it would feel good watching this lady level the spray-tanned himbos of the world with cutting rhetoric. However, this time around, I kept thinking, "Lady, don't waste your brain power on this jerk." By the end, when their inevitable kiss comes, all I could think was, "Lady, don't waste your kisses and heart and future and life on this jerk!"
McConaughey succeeds at making his character deplorable but fails at infusing his performance with anything redeeming or sympathetic. If he doesn't change, he undermines the movie's entire premise — predictable as it may be — which asks: can this d-bag change and get the girl? And that echoes another question: can McConaughey ever recapture what once made him so special? Sadly, I think the answer to both at this point is: who cares?
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.