***1/2 (out of 5)
September 19, 2008
Ricky Gervais as BERTRAM PINCUS
Greg Kinnear as FRANK HERLIHY
Téa Leoni as GWEN
Directed by: David Koepp
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
It’s been a tough fall so far, when it comes to movies. Sure, there have been some gems, like “Burn After Reading.” However, for the most part, the thick selection of films have been pretty slim on quality.
Fortunately, gems like “Ghost Town” manage to slip through into the cinemas.
This film is the big-screen headlining debut of Ricky Gervais, best known for his work on HBO’s “Extras” and the original British version of “The Office.” Gervais plays a Manhattan dentist named Bertram Pincus who abhors people and generally keeps to himself. During a colonoscopy, he dies for a scant seven minutes, and when he wakes up, he’s suddenly able to see ghosts all over town.
One of the ghosts he meets is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who promises that he and the other ghosts will go away if Bertram will sabotage the new relationship of his widow Gwen (Téa Leoni). Reluctantly, Bertram agrees to help, but he never plans on falling in love with Gwen.
The real charm of “Ghost Town” is the fact that it isn’t a groundbreaking film. To be honest, we’ve seen this movie before in many forms, from the romantic (a la “Ghost”) to the scary (a la “The Sixth Sense”). However, there’s a freshness about its presentation.
Ricky Gervais can be credited with the warm and fuzzy feeling of this film, but I also credit uber-screenwriter-turned-director David Koepp. Together, they manage to freshen up a plot that could quickly go stale. Gervais’ self-deprecating humor and subtle wit helps make the boorish character of Dr. Pincus incredibly affable and likeable. Never before have I seen an actor able to do so much without a coherent line of dialogue.
There’s a quality supporting cast as well. Kinnear manages to bring us a likable ghost, even though he was an adulterer and a liar. There’s also a nice performance by Kristin Wiig, who plays the surgeon who oversaw Bertram’s colonoscopy and ends up breaking the news to him that he did die for a bit less than seven minutes. Even Téa Leoni, who often comes off as bland on the big screen, casts a warm glow in the cast.
Sure, there are some scenes in which the jokes run a little too long, and the stammering delivery of Gervais is overused just a bit. However, the film works even in the more random, repetitive moments. This points to a not-too-serious humor behind the execution. After all, the man dies of a colonoscopy, which usually only will make someone die from embarrassment. These procedures are never our proudest moments as human beings, and that taps into the general fear we all have from something like this.
At its heart, “Ghost Town” is a feel good movie. There’s a lot of familiar ground, brought to new life with the unique comedy styling that Gervais manages. This movie isn’t going to win any awards, and sadly will probably be quickly forgotten as the autumn box office wraps up. However, as a movie to go head-to-head with garbage like the new Dane Cook vehicle, “Ghost Town” is a sweet and heartfelt experience… and that’s a welcome surprise in this September slump.