© 2008 Ray Wong
Kind of a cross between Heaven Can Wait and The Sixth Sense, Ghost Town is a romantic comedy that has more to do with growing up than getting laid.
Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is an antisocial dentist living in Manhattan, having moved from London because he was tired of all the people. But why Manhattan, then? Well, he has a good answer to that: Love. But it didn't really work out for him so he's developed a phobic reaction to everyone around him. Such an odd predicament given he has to interact with patients every day.
Then one day, after a botched colonoscopy during which he died for seven minutes, Bertram starts to see people who don't really exist. One of these ghosts is Frank (Greg Kinnear), a well-to-do businessman who's concerned about his surviving wife's new fiance, Richard (Billy Campbell). Frank convinces Bertram to help him, in return Frank will ask the other ghosts to leave Bertram alone. Of course, Bertram falls for Frank's wife, Gwen (Tea Leoni), an archeologist. At first, Gwen thinks of Bertram as a jerk and an idiot; but soon she is charmed by his sense of humor and good nature. When Bertram realizes that he's in love with Gwen, and that Richard is actually a good guy, he wants out despite Frank's protest. Little does he know his defiance is going to cost him something very dear to him.
Ricky Gervais (Stardust), best known as David Brent in the original UK version of The Office, gives a spirited, nuanced performance as the everyman who has a problem with people. Gervais's brand of humor and comic timing is very British, and yet he fits snugly in an American comedy. His subtle yet witty portrayal is both funny and affecting. His first leading role in an American film pays off very well.
Greg Kinnear (Flash of Genius) is effectively smarmy and smug. One doesn't doubt that his character loves his wife, but we also see that he's going about it in all the wrong ways. Kinnear runs through the entire film in a tuxedo, and that itself is rather amusing. Tea Leoni (Fun with Dick and Jane) is subtle and genuine as Gwen. She's pretty and charming to make us believe why all these men are in love with her. However, her character lacks a certain core of true desire and drive -- it is a relative passive role.
The supporting cast is solid. Aasif Mandvi (Music and Lyrics) is wonderfully genteel as Bertram colleague and fellow dentist. The scene where he sits Bertram down and delivers the truth is priceless. Kristen Wiig (Knocked Up) is SNL-funny as the ditzy surgeon. And Bill Campbell (The Practice) has a lot of fun playing Gwen's too-good-to-be-true lawyer fiance.
Written and directed by David Koepp, best known as the scribe of such hits as Jurassic Park and Spider-Man, has given us an amusing but light story (with fellow writer John Kamps, Zathura). There is nothing extraordinary new and unique, but Koepp and Kamps have given us some interesting characters, especially Bertram Pincus. The dialogue is snappy and the pacing is good. There are some structural issues with the script, however. Parts of it don't fit well together.
The good thing about the script is that it goes for the heart without being too sappy, and it goes for the laughs without being too slapstick, and it goes the "grow up" message without being too preachy. The pitfall is that the story is a whole lot of lukewarm and not enough sizzle. It feels light and somewhat irrelevant.
Koepp's direction is inconsistent as well. Part of the film feels like a light romantic comedy, and part of it feels like a family drama. The pacing seems off at times as well, and the editing needs work. Some scenes seem to drag on. Pieces of the plot don't fit well together, and there are some gaps in character development as well. Some of the green-screen effects are simply bad. Still, Koepp has given us a tight entertainment that has enough chuckles to make us care.
As is, Ghost Town is an amiable little film that would please fans of Gervais, Kinnear and Leoni. But it lacks something substantial to make it really tick, and it could use some tightening in terms of writing, direction and editing. It's not a disaster, but it's also far from being the best in town.
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni, Aasif Mandvi, Kristen Wiig, Bill Campbell
Directors: David Koepp
Writers: David Koepp, John Kamps
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 6.5 out of 10