Ghosts of Girlfriends Past 

Most moviegoers could produce a list of Things I Never Want to See at the Movies. Mine would be topped by "The Jerry Lewis Story," starring Jamie Kennedy, but surely in the top 10 would be another variation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Fine. Grouchy guy examines his life and realizes he's been an asshole. Repents. I get it.

But writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore ("Four Christmases") and director Mark Waters ("The Spiderwick Chronicles") have teamed up to bring us "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," a romcom version starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner, a couple of Texans who create on-screen all the chemistry and mutual love of Dallas and Fort Worth.

Connor Mead (McConaughey, "Tropic Thunder") is a hotshot photographer of interchangeably beautiful women, and serial bedder of same. He's been asked to be best man at the wedding of his younger brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer, "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties"). As the love-'em-and-leave-'em bachelor, Connor is against marriage, which of course, puts him at odds with his soon-to-be sister-in-law, Sandra (Lacey Chabert, "Black Christmas") and her maid of honor, Jenny (Jennifer Garner, "Juno").

Connor and Jenny have a past. They've known each other since childhood and were buddies until he lost his nerve at the prom and didn't ask her to dance. She danced with another guy and received her first kiss from him.

That's right: Actors who are 37 and 40 are playing people who are still messing up their lives over a missed kiss in high school.

The guys' Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, "King of California") appears to Connor as a ghost taking a leak in a urinal. If ghosts still have to pee, what's the advantage of being dead? Anyway, Uncle Wayne was the horndog who taught young Connor every considerable thing he knows about women, but has returned to warn his nephew that being a womanizer will lead to an old age of bitter loneliness, despite the fact that Uncle Ghost is still having a good time and expects to score with every lady ghost he meets.

The point of "A Christmas Carol" is that what you don't do can come back to haunt you. Connor's problem is what he does do. The women in his past aren't angry over their trysts with him, but they resent the fact that he dumped them all. Obviously, he hasn't used promises of marriage to seduce them; he's perfectly up-front and blunt about what he does. All of this misses Dickens' point entirely.

The movie has its humorous highlights. Douglas is a hoot and Chabert has some nice moments of comic frustration and anger. Meyer was funnier playing opposite a cartoon cat, but Paul is the dull, straight-man role.

McConaughey has these heels-with-hearts-of-gold characters down pat, and if he had one ounce of ambition as an actor, he would have moved beyond them years ago. Garner's face has grown even thinner and more angular than ever. She should be playing the best-friend parts, not the romantic leads.

There's not a smidgeon of maturity in this picture, but then, it did open the summer season.

"?Doug Bentin

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