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Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/22/2009

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/13/2009

It's been said before, but it bears repeating: A good idea can only get you so far. There have been plenty of movies which had good ideas and then had the story to back that up. But, there have been far more movies where the good idea was the end of the creativity as far as that project was concerned. One can almost hear the writer pitching the idea, the producer's loving it, and then the slight panic when everyone in the room realizes that they have nothing else to fill in the blanks. I got that feeling while watching Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. This movie has a good cast, a director I like, and a good idea, but it lacks in spirit.

Matthew McConaughey stars in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past as Connor Mead, a high-powered New York fashion photographer. He loves his job, but he loves women even more, and he has a reputation for having bedded hundred of women. Connor's brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), is getting married, and he leaves the city to go to the rehearsal dinner and wedding. The event is being held at the estate of Connor's late uncle, Wayne (Michael Douglas), a renowned ladies' man who taught Connor everything that he knows. (Uncle Wayne raised Connor and Paul after their parents were killed.) Upon arriving at the mansion, Connor runs into Jenny (Jennifer Garner), an old friend with whom he shared a brief romance. As is the bride, Sandra (Lacey Chabert) and her father, Sergeant Volkom (Robert Forster), weren't uptight enough, Connor's tirade about how love is a sham definitely puts everyone on edge. Ostracized from the party, Connor goes to the bathroom, where he's greeted by the ghost of Uncle Wayne. Wayne explains that while going from woman to woman may seem like fun, the result is an unfulfilled life. Wayne tells Connor that he will be visited by three ghosts, all of whom will show him the errors of his ways. But, can even powers from beyond make Connor believe in love.

Unlike many other films, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past has a lot going for it. First and foremost, lets explore that main idea again; take Charles Dickens' immortal classic A Christmas Carol and substitute a man who turned his back on love for money with a man who turned his back on love for casual sex. As with the original tale, use a series of ghosts to teach the man a lesson. Just like Ebenezer Scrooge, Connor is taken back in time to witness his relationship with Jenny and how he ran away when they were getting too close. He is also forced to confront the hundreds of women whom he bedded and never called. Transplanting the ideas from A Christmas Carol to a modern time with a more romantic slant is the kind of simple idea which borders on genius.

Next up, the supporting cast and the director are noteworthy, and the powers that be have wisely chosen to surround McConaughey with a solid group. Jennifer Garner doesn't get enough credit for her acting chops -- that probably because it's difficult to look past her natural effervescence and the way that she simply lights up the screen. Her presence instantly elevates a scene. Breckin Meyer has been spending far too much time doing voices for Robot Chicken and needs to be in more movies, as he can play both anxious and laid-back with ease. Lacey Chabert usually plays the sweet girl, so it was nice to see her as a “Bridezilla”. Michael Douglas was apparently born to play this role. This may sound strange, but the most impressive performance comes from Emma Stone, who plays the ghost of the past. She has made a career by playing low-key, monotone characters in movies like The Rocker and Superbad. But here, she’s playing a hyper and giddy teenager and the amount of energy that she brings to the role is genuinely shocking. Director Mark Waters made the indie hit The House of Yes, and then went on to more mainstream fare, such as Mean Girls and The Spiderwick Chronicles.

But, despite all of these positives, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past simply doesn’t work. As with the pros, allow me to lay out the cons. For one thing, the movie simply plays things too safe. Waters’ other movies, even seemingly pedestrian fare like Head Over Heels and Just Like Heaven, had a quirky thread running through them, usually in the form of off-beat characters, which set them apart from other romantic-comedies. We get none of that here. The movie takes its great idea and drives it straight to the conclusion with no deviations or side-trips. There was only one moment in the film (the rain) which I found to be the least bit clever. The other main problem is Matthew McConaughey. At first glance, he may seem like the perfect choice for this role, given his playboy reputation. But, that’s the exact thing which kills the movie. I’m not giving anything away by saying that at the end, Connor decides to change his ways. However, hearing McConaughey say that he’s ready to give up womanizing doesn’t ring true at all and the viewer feels cheated. And who can forget the fact that McConaughey tries his hand at physical comedy. With some tweaks, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past could have been a great rom-com, but in its current state, it doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past refuses to commit on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only very mild grain (even on snowy backdrops) and no defects from the source material. The level of detail is notably good and the image has a nice depth to it. The colors are realistic, but the image is somewhat dark in some shots. (The scenes with the ghosts should be a little darker, thematically, but the wedding rehearsal scenes seem a bit dull.) Overall, not perfect, but solid. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are notably good, and there are several moments where off-screen noises have an impact. The ghost "travel" scenes provide good surround, and the music delivers solid bass. Otherwise, this track is lackluster.

The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. "Recreating the Past, Imagining the Future" (9 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers some on-set footage and comments from the cast and crew. They discuss the "ghost rules", the story, and creating the look of the film. "It's All About Connor" (4 minutes) has the film's actresses (and Breckin Meyer) discussing what it was like to work with McConaughey. "The Legends, The Lessons, and The Ladies" (8 minutes) looks at the casting of McConaughey and Michael Douglas as playboys and scoundrels. The Disc contains four ADDITIONAL SCENES which run about 10 minutes. The original opening is interesting, as it lets us know that the story is taking place right after Christmas -- something which isn't revealed in the film.

Warner Home Video is also bringing Ghosts of Girlfriends Past to DVD. The DVD contains both the widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film.  For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, but notably soft. There is no over grain or defects from the source material, but the picture looks almost hazy at times, and there is notable haloes around everything. The image is also somewhat dark. (All of this is surprising, considering that there are no extras and should have been plenty of room for a good transfer.) The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and we got some modest surround sound at times. The in-film music sounds fine.

There are no extras whatsoever on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long