There is something innately sleazy about Matthew McConaughey, a quality immediately apparent in his first appearance in this wobbly excuse of a morality tale/romantic comedy. As the glibly womanizing high-profile photographer Connor Mead, who proudly and resourcefully breaks up with three women at once on a conference call (“in bulk”), McConaughey shines in his own natural, dubious way. The film’s problem-or one of its problems-ensues later in the narrative game, when the comeuppance we expect of his character comes due, but the sleaze aura just won’t go away. By film’s end, even with the emotional coaxing of his true love (Jennifer Garner) and the apparitional coaching of his dead playboy uncle (Michael Douglas, who can also easily access his inner sleazeball), McConaughey doesn’t have the acting chops to get where he needs to go.
Then again, dramatic or artistic satisfaction may be too much to ask from this movie, with its shameless bastardization of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as an out-of-season plot structure. McConaughey’s character’s skirt-chasing instincts and cynicism about matters of the heart (versus the groin) is put fully on display when he heads up to his brother’s wedding. What awaits him, alas, is a series of Dickensian visitations, geared to awakening his slumbering conscience.
So, given the movie’s built-in flaws and the greasy, overpaid actor at its center, why does Ghosts deliver enough occasional pleasures to soothe the bored and big screen-hungry moviegoer? It may have something to do with the competent hand of director Mark Waters, whose filmography also includes the juicier comedy Mean Girls, and who does manage to smack some life into the film’s ensemble spirit. It may also have to do with seasonal desperation, now that we’re coming out of the lean period of the Hollywood release schedule and approaching the brink of the summer blockbuster party.
Dickens would likely not be amused by this shabby claptrap of a rerouting of his work, although he might crack a guilty smile or two along the way.