Review: Ghost Town
Plot: After dying for several minutes during a colonoscopy, a pompous dentist, Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) gains the ability to communicate with ghosts, all of whom want him to help them complete unfinished business with the living. One ghost in particular, Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) proves to be especially bothersome, as he wants Pincus to stop his widow's upcoming wedding. Complications arise when Pincus unexpectedly falls in love with the widow, Gwen (Téa Leone).
Review: I went into GHOST TOWN expecting the worst. I love Ricky Gervais, but the trailers for this film did not work for me at all, and the thought of him toning down his act to pay the romantic lead in a big budget Hollywood rom-com did not inspire confidence. Happily, despite my initial reservations towards the film, I had a great time with GHOST TOWN.
In his first foray into conventional leading man territory, Gervais is surprisingly effective. I say surprisingly, because one of the things Gervais's humor thrives on is the idea of extreme social awkwardness, which does not traditionally lend itself to the romantic comedy genre. While Gervais's act is definitely toned down if you compare it to his work on THE OFFICE (U.K version) or EXTRAS, the filmmakers wisely tailored the film to his strengths, and they don't make him stretch too much.
In GHOST TOWN, Gervais plays a completely misanthropic dentist (anyone ever notice that dentists are always portrayed this way in films?), who has nothing but contempt for his fellow man, and treats everyone, even his colleagues, with complete and utter disdain. Interestingly, this plays into a theory I have about the American fascination with arrogant Brits. For some reason, Americans seem to love being abused by the British, whether it's Simon Cowell, Gordon Ramsay or once upon a time, Anne Robinson (from THE WEAKEST LINK- anyone remember that? Anyone?), so it's no surprise that in his first American film role, Gervais plays an abusive Brit. As anyone who listens to THE RICKY GERVAIS SHOW knows, Gervais is funny as hell when he takes the piss out of others (especially if that person is Karl Pilkington- who unfortunately is M.I.A here).
Of course, being an accessible American comedy, Gervais's character eventually sees the error of his ways, and warms up, especially once Téa Leone enters the picture. This brings me to what, for me, was the most pleasant surprise of the film- Gervais & Leone have great chemistry. While Gervais doesn't exactly have the look of a conventional leading man (unlike his co-star Kinnear), he's wit is so sharp in some of his courtship scenes with Leone that it's actually kind of believable that she'd fall for him. For her part, I always felt Leone was under-appreciated as an actress. I like her a lot- although to be fair, she's appeared in her share of awful films (especially the back to back SPANGLISH/ FUN WITH DICK & JANE debacles). Still, given the right vehicle (such as the under seen YOU KILL ME), Leone is a top notch performer. She's also still quite the looker- which doesn't hurt. I also quite liked Greg Kinnear in this film, as he's brings a kind of Cary Grant-ish charm to the role, and he plays off Gervais quite well.
Another nice thing about GHOST TOWN is that it doesn't go for cheap laughs. While I love potty humor in moderation, it's nice to occasionally see a comedy that takes a more sophisticated approach. In some ways, GHOST TOWN is like a contemporary Blake Edwards-style comedy. By that, I mean that the film takes a classy and adult approach to the subject matter, and isn't afraid to occasionally tone down the comedy and go for a nice emotional moment (particularly Gervais's surprisingly affecting last line before the end credits). I also loved the fact that studio behind the film (PARAMOUNT/ DREAMWORKS) ponied up enough cash to include a Beatles song on the soundtrack (I'M LOOKING THROUGH YOU), that for once is an original Beatles recording, and not some lame cover (I AM SAM- I'm looking in your direction).
Overall, GHOST TOWN was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, and bodes well for Gervais' future in American films. While it doesn't even begin to compare to his work on THE OFFICE & EXTRAS- it's still a lot of fun, and definitely worth a look.