Dr. Pincus, a dentist, dies during a routine colonoscopy. He is brought back seven minutes later and finds himself haunted by many ghosts asking him to help them complete various tasks so they can get to “the other side.”
Bertram Pincus (Gervais) is a dentist who seems to hate everyone. He is a dentist by trade and seems to enjoy his job best while at work so no one can talk to him. He is also shown early sneaking out on a celebration with a co-worker who just had a child and then purposively closing an elevator door on Gwen (Leoni) as she is struggling to it with a large box. He is actually the second asshole we meet in the movie as the prologue introduces us to Frank (Kinnear). Frank has just escaped a close call when his wife, Gwen, almost catches on to the fact he is cheating on her. Unfortuantely for Frank, while he escapes that close call he doesn’t escape an oncoming bus and is flattened.
Frank finds he is now a ghost, stuck in this world. Lucky for him, Bertram is about to have a colonoscopy. During the course of the procedure, Bertram dies for seven minutes and when he is miraculously resuscitated finds he can now see ghosts. The ghosts start to pester Bertram because they need him to send messages to their loved ones and you can imagine how that goes over with someone who hates human contact. Frank is one of the ghosts who approach Bertram, trying to get him to help stop his wife from getting married to a guy named Richard (Billy Campbell). When he promises to get all the other ghosts to leave him alone if he helps, Bertram gives in.
Ricky Gervais said in an interview recently that he receives many scripts geared towards him as a lead and he never chose one until Ghost Town. I find it unique that the script he chose, while a comedy, portrays him as the straight man surrounded by insanity. Instead of trying to appear funny, he simply appears annoyed. In the commentary, he mentions the best comedy actors need to be willing to be the butt of the joke. In this comedy, he was perfect in that role.
The scenes I found most amusing were when Bertram was wooing Gwen, believing if she fell for him she would leave Richard. What made it best was the fact that there was no way someone like Ricky Gervais should ever be able to win over someone like Tea Leoni. Then again, she is married to David Duchovny. However, overlook the physical description of Gervais. The personality of the character is so abrasive and annoying that I don’t see how a character like Gwen would ever give him the time of day. Give in to that suspension of disbelief and there is a nice comedy on display here.
Director David Koepp is better known for his writing (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Spider-Man) but his last three movies, all supernatural in nature, have been decent efforts that shows he has nice touch behind the camera. I was most impressed with his horror flick Stir of Echoes. I saw the film in the theater the week after seeing Sixth Sense, and Koepp’s movie has seemed to hold up better over time. He proved with Stir of Echoes to be able to create a ghost movie that could truly scare and in Ghost Town proves he has his comic timing down pat too.
In the same interview where Gervais spoke of being choosy about the scripts he considered, he also said this would probably be his last leading role. I hope that is not true because he delivered a very good performance in a pretty good comedy feature. Tea Leone is adorable in this movie and Greg Kinnear is wonderful playing the funnyman to Gervais’ straight man. There are a lot of overly sappy moments, such as when Frank sabotages Bertram’s attempts to get closer to Gwen explaining she already had a heartless asshole in him, and doesn’t deserve another one.
The subplots involving the various ghosts who all need something is also quite cheesy but really helps give the movie heart. These scenes are all one hundred percent Velveeta and are the true definition of emotional manipulation but they also work very well. Between the humor of the first half and the heart of the second half, the movie is an easy recommendation.
My inner geek also got kind of excited when I saw Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as one of the ghosts. It’s nice to see childhood favorites reappear in unexpected places.
Commentary by David Koepp and Ricky Gervais – The two deliver a very interesting commentary track. Between the two, the conversation bounces between technical aspects (they describe how to record sound when shooting close-up shots with two actors) and comedy with Gervais.
Making Ghost Town (22:41) – This is a pretty funny feature with Gervais doing a lot of the talking while Koepp jumps in occasionally with technical information. All the players get some time talking here and, while short, is entertaining.
Some People Can Do It (06:22) – Gervais and company in a blooper reel.
Ghostly Effects (02:02) – There is no dialogue here, just quick samples showing how they achieved the CGI work in the film. It is not just the ghost work they show but also how they created the entire city landscape at the start of the film and then adding actual footage of traffic to it.