Jennifer Garner, Matthew McConaughey, ...
Credit: Ron Batzdorff

It’s gone well past cloying to see Matthew McConaughey play a ”charming cad.” (The more he pushes the charm, the more the cad shows through.) But even if you’ve tired of the star’s oily cocoa-butter narcissism, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past offers a solution, of sorts: It casts him as a studly photographer who is such a smarmy, dislikable (insert ? expletive of your choice) that the film doesn’t pretend you’re supposed to like him.

In the first scene, McConaughey, cast as a fellow named Connor Mead (that should get your hate juices flowing right there), swans around a photo set, firing off lewd remarks at barely dressed models. When they make goo-goo eyes at him anyway, the film seems to be endorsing this sleazy-does-it lounge ? lizard. Fear not, though — it’s counting on the audience’s revulsion. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, you see, is a chick-flick update of A Christmas Carol, with Connor as a heartless, babe-magnet Scrooge who, during the long weekend of his brother’s wedding, gets his comeuppance when a series of ghosts reveal the train wreck — past, present, and future — that is his romantic life. The movie is cheesy, tacky, and gimmicky. But as directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls), it’s also prankish and inventive enough to be kind of fun.

As the ghost of Uncle Wayne, the Hefneresque bachelor who taught Connor how to be a pickup artist, Michael Douglas shows his gift for turning creepiness into light comedy. Laying down rules lifted from Neil Strauss’ egregious insult-your-way-into-bed manifesto The Game, Douglas shows you the loser inside the swinger. And it helps to have Jennifer Garner, with her dimpled vivacity, as the lifelong object of Connor’s affection. There’s some funny business with a wedding cake, as well as a deeply unfunny (and shrill) performance by Lacey Chabert as the bride, but mostly there is Matthew McConaughey acting abashed — and, yes, a wee bit charming — as he gets the lesson he deserves. B?