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By Film critic
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/28/2009 2:43:52 PM ET 2009-04-28T18:43:52

While “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” was probably never going to be a particularly good movie, it certainly could have managed to be a little less awful without that ghastly jackanapes Matthew McConaughey in the lead role. His self-satisfied and oleaginous performance scrapes away the trace amounts of charm the film has to offer.

And what, exactly, did Charles Dickens’ immortal “A Christmas Carol” do to deserve such horrible treatment on the big screen of late? Last year’s reactionary wank-fest “An American Carol” was painful enough, but did we really need Scrooge refigured as a fashion-photographer cocksman with intimacy issues?

McConaughey can’t be bothered to drop the Texas drawl even though he’s playing Newport-bred, New York–based shutterbug Connor Mead; the film begins with him humiliating a famous singer he’s shooting for a Vanity Fair cover, after which she naturally falls into bed with him. But he has to leave her — and simultaneously break up with three other women via Web chat — to head home for the wedding of his younger brother Paul (Breckin Meyer).

Connor keeps trying to talk Paul out of tying the knot, in between verbal jousts with lifelong friend Jenny (Jennifer Garner). And then the ghost of Connor’s uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) shows up; he’s an old-school playboy of the Robert Evans variety (although Douglas is starting to resemble his dad Kirk more than anyone else) who has come to warn Connor that he’s being visited by the titular specters because of his free-wheeling ways.

The first one is gawky teen Allison Vandermeersh (Emma Stone), who deflowered the young Connor. We see him as a boy, falling in love with girl-next-door Jenny, but after he has a failure of nerve at a junior high dance and she goes off with someone else, he adopts his uncle’s love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude. (Thanks to the movie’s faulty chronology, they go from being six years old in the early ’80s to teens in the mid-’80s, but that’s barely a blip on this movie’s list of flaws.) When Connor and Jenny met again as adults, his reputation as a ladies’ man made her keep her distance, so he wooed her aggressively; when she finally gave in to his advances, he skulked out before dawn.

Video: Garner, McConaughey talk ‘Girlfriends’ The later ghosts show Connor that he’s poisoning Paul’s relationship with his fiancée and that one day he’ll die with only Paul to show up at his funeral. But Connor’s behavior has been so obnoxious and grotesque up to this point that it’s hard to care whether or not he’s going to be redeemed.

Had, say, George Clooney or the mid-’90s Hugh Grant starred in this movie, it could be easier to forgive the clunky script, the hideous cinematography and the general inanity of “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” Having to endure watching it with its current leading man, however, will make you want to beat yourself in the head with Tiny Tim’s crutch.

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