Ghost Town (2008) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA - PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references
Running time: 102 min.
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni, Billy Campbell, Aasif Mandvi, Kristen Wiig, Dana Ivey
Director: David Koepp
Screenplay: David Koepp, John Kamps
Review published October 15, 2011
Ricky Gervais (Stardust, Night at the Museum) stars as Bertram Pincus, a misanthropic London-transplant dentist currently living and working in Manhattan who finds himself gaining the ability to see and hear from dead people after becoming clinically dead during a colonoscopy. The ghosts are thrilled to finally be seen by someone who has a tangible connection with the real world, as they have unfinished business that won't allow their souls to get to their final destination until they resolve something that wasn't finished when they suddenly expired. One of those ghosts is Frank Herlihy (Kinnear, Baby Mama), a philandering businessman who is aiming to keep his widowed anthropologist ex, Gwen (Leoni, Fun with Dick and Jane), from getting hitched to a philanthropist attorney, Richard (Clayton, Dracula), and strong-arms Bertram to do his bidding in breaking the happy couple up. But as Bertram gets closer to Gwen, the more conflicted he feels, as he begins to care too much for someone else, which doesn't fit in with his "shut out the world" mentality he has been living in since his last relationship went sour.
Ricky Gervais' first starring role in an American film capitalizes on his wickedly funny way to mock those around him without becoming too overbearing, while we in the audience always know that the joke is on him for being the pathetic wretch at whom we can make fun. He fares a bit better than Kinnear, whose likeable comic personality goes against the grain of his egotistical rich prick with a wandering eye. Meanwhile, Tea Leoni appears to exist in a virtual vacuum, unconvincingly matching up with the three male counterparts she is supposed to have feelings and deep connections to.
Veteran screenwriter David Koepp (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Zathura) does a fine job as writer, though the look of the film often feels homogenized and a bit too bright, not only in appearance but in tone, for the kind of darker undertones of death and despair that runs underneath the stories. Some will find familiarity in the "spirit that needs to resolve a conflict before going to heaven' storyline, taken from the romantic Oscar-nominated Ghost and the feel good comedy, Heart and Souls, from which the tone of Ghost Town borrows quite a bit. There is a sentimentality to the story, particularly as the film nears the end, that may split some viewers, though Koepp does handle these moments with the requisite amount of emotion to drive home meaning without losing sight of the limited nature of the characterizations.
All in all, Ghost Town pretty much plays out each scene with a predictability that keeps it from soaring into truly good territory, but its amiability and pleasantness, along with some underlying moments of interesting philosophy on life, death, and coexistence, keep the interest level buoyant throughout, despite a few lulls. It's a solid vehicle for Gervais, whose fans should delight in his comic performance, which he effortlessly keeps slightly dramatic and even a little romantic, all at the same time.
©2011 Vince Leo