DVD Release Date:  December 28, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  September 19, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (some strong language, sexual humor and drug references)
Genre:  Comedy/Romance/Fantasy
Run Time:  102 min.
Director:  David Koepp
Actors:  Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Téa Leoni, Jordan Carlos, Brian Hutchison, Claire Lautier, Aasif Mandvi, Bridget Moloney, Raymond J. Lee, Kristen Wiig

Best known as the irreverent, bumbling boss David Brent on the original BBC version of The Office, Ricky Gervais isn’t the most likely choice for a leading man.

But with a script that’s tailor-made for his snarkiness and a star turn as a humanity-loathing dentist who happens to see dead people (more on that in a minute), he’s every bit as charming and endearing as George Clooney or Brad Pitt—even if he doesn’t exactly have that same swoon-worthy sex appeal.

Much like Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall in 1997’s As Good As It Gets, Gervais’ Bertram Pincus D.D.S. has created his own comfortable existence that doesn’t involve much interaction with his fellow humans.  The only reason he actually tolerates his dental day job is because he can conveniently shove something into his patients’ mouths when they talk too much. When one particular client goes on and on about her young son’s recent accomplishments, he promptly interrupts her cheery banter with a mouth full of cement for an impression of her teeth and replies, “You’re resting your jaw. I’m resting my ears. We’re all winners.”

And when Dr. Pincus isn’t dodging out of the office party in commemoration of a co-worker’s new baby or letting the elevator door close just seconds before his neighbors have a chance to get on with the heavy packages they’re carrying, he’s hanging out in his dreary Manhattan apartment accompanied only by his pajamas, a few sharpened pencils and Will Shortz’ latest crossword puzzle.

Instead of briskly moving into the redemptive second act, the filmmakers do an outstanding job of juxtaposing Dr. Pincus’ dreary existence with shots that beautifully capture the beauty and hustle-bustle of New York City life. Rather than settling for the all-too-familiar images of the skyline and the requisite shots of Times Square, the camera lingers the way it would in an Indie (or a Woody Allen) film, capturing the city in an artful way that ultimately makes Ghost Town a true joy to watch.

As expected, though, the protagonist’s rather insulated existence doesn’t end up staying that way for long. After a routine colonoscopy (that he demanded full anesthesia for) goes seriously awry, the nurse finally tells him after a couple of failed attempts, “You died. A little bit.” And after leaving the planet for somewhere in the neighborhood of seven minutes, something strange has happened to Dr. Pincus:  He now sees the ghosts of dead people with unfinished business here on Earth.

Segueing into a story that borrows liberally from Ghost, It’s a Wonderful Life and Cary Grant’s turn as a ghost who meddles in the life of a particularly stuffy friend in 1937’s Topper, Dr. Pinkus isn’t exactly thrilled with his newfound “gift.” In fact, it downright annoys him, and he does anything he can think of to escape them. Being the extremely mobile, persistent variety of ghosts, however, he simply can’t get away.

Sensing an opportunity to get his endgame accomplished, one ghost in particular named Frank (Greg Kinnear), a sleazy fellow West Sider who was cheating on his wife when he died, offers to strike a deal. If Dr. Pinkus successfully breaks up his ex-wife’s engagement to the do-gooder lawyer Frank has “suspicions” about, he’ll make sure the other ghosts never bother him again. And while Frank never exactly explains how he has control over how the other ghosts behave, Dr. Pinkus takes him at his word and begrudgingly accepts his offer.

Given his rather prickly demeanor, his natural tendency to insult people and severe lack of fashion sense, Frank tries to give Dr. Pinkus a few pointers on picking up his wife, which plays out rather hilariously for the audience. Even his feeble pick-up attempts that eventually get slightly better with time are an absolute hoot. Thankfully, Gwen (Téa Leoni) ends up being a formidable match for Dr. Pinkus’ wiseacre ways. Watching their burgeoning friendship play out is rewarding and surprisingly devoid of the usual movie clichés, thanks to the gradual (rather than the “How did that happen seemingly overnight?”) changes that underscore the effectiveness of the script penned by David Koepp, who generally tackles more action-oriented material including War of the Worlds and Spider-Man.

Of course, the movie’s take on what happens after someone dies is decidedly flawed, but there is a strong theme of making the most of your life while you’re still alive. Inevitably, Frank regrets cheating on his wife. Another character is dead-set on settling a dispute between two family members who aren’t talking to each other because she left jewelry to one of them—and not the other, something she explains in a letter they never received because it was trapped under cement.

But of course, the most radical transformation of all happens to Dr. Pinkus when he puts aside his own selfish agenda to start helping others. Almost dying allows him to experience living in a whole new rewarding way, which definitely elevates Ghost Town a step above your typical supernatural romantic comedy.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  There are a couple of scenes with social drinking, plus a couple of references to potentially addictive pain meds like Vicodin.
  • Language/Profanity:  The PG-13 allotment of “f” words (two), a few mild expletives and instances where the Lord’s name is taken in vain.
  • Sex/Nudity:  In addition to discussion of Frank’s philandering ways, there are a couple of sexual innuendos and an extended scene where the genitalia size of a male mummy is discussed between Dr. Pinkus and Gwen.
  • Violence:  Two of the main characters are hit by a city bus.  Aside from that, most of the violence is relegated to that of a comedic nature.



Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.