Ghost Town, a new comedy starring Brit com sensation Ricky Gervais, Téa Leoni and Greg Kinnear, follows in the footsteps of the ghostly romances of the 1940s. In movies like Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Down to Earth ghostly apparitions had a hand in changing people’s lives and helping romance blossom. It’s an old concept given a shiny new treatment by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull screenwriter, turned director David Koepp.
Kinnear plays Frank, a high powered New York businessman who seems to love his I-Phone more than his wife Gwen (Leoni). When he is killed in a freak accident he discovers that his body can’t make its final journey until all his business is settled on Earth. Enter Bertram Pincus D.D.S. (Gervais) a persnickety dentist with zero people skills. When a simple medical procedure leaves him dead on the operating table for two minutes he awakens with the strange ability to see the newly departed. They’re everywhere. These lost souls wander the streets looking for some way to communicate with their loved ones so they can prepare for the trip to the beyond. Frank latches on to Bertram, initially using him to spy on his widow until he realizes that the dentist is falling in love with Gwen. Frank must learn to give up his controlling ways and let Gwen go before he can rest in peace.
Ghost Town begins as a straight-up comedy and slowly, over its 103 minute running time, turns into a romantic comedy, heavy on the romance, light on the comedy. As the romance angle increases the laugh per minute ratio decreases to the point where, I think, it’s not accurate to call the film a comedy in its final moments.
Gervais is given free reign to flaunt his trademarked misanthropic schitick, but only up to a point. This is his first lead in an American film and it is interesting to see how his acerbic wit is shaped and softened by Hollywood. “[I’m] just what America wants,” he said in a recent interview, “a fat, British, middle-aged comedian trying to be a semi-romantic lead.” If he had been allowed to play up to his strengths—obnoxious and uncomfortable wit—instead of being made palatable for Gladys in Minnesota by smoothing out his patented rough edges Ghost Town might have been a much better movie. Instead of being an effective vehicle for Gervais’s humor, though, the movie made me want to go home and watch his sitcom Extras on DVD.
Ghost Town isn’t a terrible movie, just a misguided and forgettable one.