There are comedies. And then there are Matthew McConaughey comedies, which should be judged by a different standard.

Both dance to the beats of attraction, resistance, reversal and romantic resolution. Typically, though, the McComedy relies on Himself's shirtlessness and little else. This creates an impression of McConaughey as one of sculpted pecs and flabby character.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a broad variation on the theme of A Christmas Carol with McConaughey as bug-eyed, Scrooge-y womanizer Connor Mead, tapped as best man at the wedding of his brother, Paulie (Breckin Meyer). While Dickens' Scrooge is tight with his money and learns the consequences, Connor is stingy with his heart.

Ghosts has two things going for it: (1) McConaughey keeps his shirt on and flexes acting muscles instead (admittedly not as well-developed as his abs); (2) His costar is Jennifer Garner, wise and wistful, whose presence makes the material seem (marginally) less vulgar than it is. In terms of character, McConaughey is the toxin and Garner the antitoxin. It's not exactly chemistry, but as pharmacology it's effective.

Connor is a magazine photographer notorious for putting the moves on every lingerie model and celeb he shoots. So many babes are clamoring for dates that he books two at once and for breakups (via video conference call) three at once.

This player's scoring average for the Christmas holidays is threatened by obligatory attendance at Paulie's nuptials up in Newport. At the rehearsal dinner, somewhere between hitting on the mother of the bride (Anne Archer) and insulting his childhood sweetheart, Jennie (Garner), Connor slams marriage. This causes his highly strung future sister-in-law, Sandra (a very funny Lacey Chabert), to pop. Likewise the story.

Expecting to hook up with the one bridesmaid he has yet to know in the biblical sense, Connor instead is haunted by ghosts of girlfriends past and present - and the specter of a friendless future. We see him orphaned at 7, raised by his Uncle Wade (Michael Douglas, drolly expounding the Playboy philosophy) and, as a teenager, lacking the courage to connect with Jenny (nicely played by Christa B. Allen, who also essayed the teen Garner in 13 Going on 30).

Directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls) and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Four Christmases), Ghosts is a mildly diverting affair about the heartbreaker who behaves badly because he's protecting his own fragile heart. By serially advocating promiscuity and then commitment, Ghosts has something for manwhores and skanks, brides and grooms if not a lot for those toward the center of the spectrum.

As a romcom, it's average, but as a Matthew McConaughey romcom, it's above average. If you're a low-expectations moviegoer, this one might surprise you.EndText

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/