Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Ghost Town"

For a film that's incredibly by-the-numbers on the page, "Ghost Town" is a surprisingly endearing comedy from writer-director David Koepp (who cut his teeth playing this material straight in stuff like "Stir of Echoes"). It's most notable for being the first film featuring "The Office"/"Extras" creator/star Ricky Gervais in a leading role, and while it offers a somewhat neutered version of the brilliant comic, he's by no means been scrubbed into a polished, likeable romantic lead. He has just as much of a self-involved edge and biting wit as we're used to, just shoehorned into a high-concept fantasy / romantic comedy framework. And against all odds, it works. Gervais is actually quite good as misanthropic dentist Bertram Pincus, who begins seeing ghosts after dying for a few minutes while receiving a colonoscopy. He already hates being forced to interact with the living, so being encountered by the dead is doubly irritating. When faced with the ghost of Frank (Greg Kinnear), who wants him to stop his ex's (Tea Leoni) forthcoming marriage, Bertram reluctantly obliges, but finds himself falling for her and slowly becoming mildly less unpleasant. Die-hard Gervais fans like myself will have to wait for "The Other Side of the Truth" for full-on Ricky, but there's still a lot to laugh at here, and it's a delightful way to introduce him to those who've no idea who he is (i.e. most of America). There's a ton of witty one-liners here -- most courtesy of Gervais and Kristen Wiig -- and even when things get conventional, there's an underlying sweetness to the whole thing, and I think it's the sort of movie people (if they go see it) will be charmed by. Also, Leoni completely eradicates any bad memories of her "Spanglish" shrew with an incredibly likeable, radiant performance here.


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