British funnyman Ricky Gervais (The Office, Extras) has deserved a lead role in a film for some time now. Gervais transcends funny; in fact, "funny" doesn’t even seem like a strong enough word to describe him. He’s one of those gifted few who can open their mouth and elicit laughter no matter what he says.
Due to that ability, it was kind of hard to screw up Ghost Town. As long as Gervais is on screen doing his thing, it should have been a consistently funny film. And generally, it is. It’s too bad no one saw it.
The film opened to a paltry $5 million, and topped out at a little over $13 million domestically. That may be unsurprising given the limited recognition of Gervais, but Ghost Town is a very broad film that would have been immensely well-liked if more people would have given it a chance.
The film follows Bertram Pincus (Gervais), a dentist whose prickly name suits his personality. Pincus is annoyed by everything, but mostly his fellow humans. He's annoyed by his chatty dental patients, he’s annoyed by his doorman and he’s especially annoyed with the bureaucrats at the local hospital where he goes to get a regular colonoscopy.
For the procedure, he requests a general anesthetic, which he comes to find out, ends up stopping his heart for a few minutes. When he’s brought back to the realm of the living, he can see ghosts –- hundreds of them, led by a true-to-form Greg Kinnear. The ghosts descend upon Pincus with their unfinished business because he’s the only one who can see them and therefore help them.
The premise is admittedly tired, but director/co-writer David Koepp (Secret Window) has a nice feel for the material. The film goes light on the special effects, which is quite welcome, and virtually eschews all physical gags for a more verbal form of humor –- Gervais’s specialty.
Most of the plot centers on Pincus helping out Kinnear’s ghost, Frank Herlihy, by breaking up the impending marriage of Herlihy's former wife (Tea Leoni). With this storyline, it’s inevitable that the film plops into romantic comedy territory, but to the film’s credit, Pincus only seems to transform from the misanthropic grouch he is at the very end.