‘Ghost Town’ reverts to formula
October 4, 2008
The comedy “Ghost Town” introduces old and new movie standards for the spirit world. For instance, ghosts need closure in order to cross over into the afterlife – old – and stepping through them is the primary cause of sneezing – new.
Dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) lives his life with the objective of avoiding human contact at all costs. He has little tolerance for the presence of others, and he regularly goes out of his way to spurn even the most basic pleasantries.
Unfortunately, after a routine colonoscopy, he finds people drawn to him in droves – people nobody else seems to be able to see. Pincus learns that while hospitalized, he died briefly, and as a result, he can see ghosts.
The specters of Manhattan keep pestering him for help in closing their earthly concerns so that they can rest in peace, but he has no interest in getting involved. One ghost refuses to leave him alone – recently deceased Frank (Greg Kinnear) promises Pincus he will keep his fellow apparitions at bay if he agrees to help his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni), who lives in Pincus’s apartment building.
Once the belligerent dentist gets acquainted with the woman he has dismissed rudely on many occasions, he is infatuated, but the more he gets to know her, the harder it becomes to complete Frank’s mission.
Gervais has perfected the awkward mannerisms of his comedy down to a science. Of course, it seems unreasonable to expect any less from the man responsible for the British and American versions of “The Office.”
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Kinnear, sharp as ever, remains in a tuxedo for the entire film – apparently, ghosts can only wear the clothes in which they perished – never letting his fancy attire overshadow the fact that he is almost as big a jerk in death as he was in life. Leoni is enjoyable as Gwen, though the character’s taste in men remains somewhat of a mystery.
At first glance, it sounds like an extremely familiar premise: Love transcends mortality only to relocate to the delight of all. Ultimately, it is, in fact, “Ghost” meets “The Sixth Sense” with some touches of “Beetlejuice.”
However, Gervais’s rare talent is what makes it work. Besides his own pasty, virtually ghostly visage filling a role usually reserved for someone more traditionally handsome, he delivers the perfect amount of dry zing in Pincus’s acidic dialogue, remaining affable all the while.
At the same time, bigger names Kinnear and Leoni relinquish the spotlight for their up-and-coming co-star, likewise leaving meaningful moments for Alan Ruck and Dana Ivey as two of the ghosts looking for resolution.
With a suitably odd leading man, “Ghost Town” achieves an unusual effect for a feel-good movie. It combines just enough originality with a greater percentage of formula and makes it work well enough to please every crowd.
And that truly feels good.