Ricky Gervais may be a slightly less attractive option in comparison to Jennifer Love Hewitt, but he’s every bit the Ghost Whisperer she is in 2008’s rom-com Ghost Town. Sure, elements of the film aren’t all that stunning and there’s nothing particularly earth-shaking about this David Koepp project, but it does mark Gervais’ first opportunity to lead a picture and it is uplifting and amusing.
Gervais stars as Bertram Pincus and he’s a dentist, which pretty much means he’s a horrific human being with nothing good to contribute to society. It turns out that beyond his masochistic vocation, he actually is quite a jerk. Pincus doesn’t much care for people and tends to avoid most social interactions with co-workers, patients, and the general public. Part of the reason Pincus loves dentistry is that he can solve the crisis of an over-talkative patient with a simple load of dentistry products.
One day, Pincus goes to the hospital for a routine surgery – a colonoscopy, in fact – and he actually dies on the operating table for about seven minutes. As any rational person worth his or her salt would conclude, the whole experience leads Pincus to see dead people. The ghosts begin to dog him because they realize that poor Pincus can help them “cross over” and Melinda Gordon’s on a break. One of the ghosts, Frank (Greg Kinnear) is particularly determined. He wants Bertram to break up the looming marriage of his widow (Téa Leoni) to some jackass lawyer (Billy Campbell).
The plot spirals down all of the usual avenues one might expect it to take, with all sorts of romantic elements and Pincus undergoing quite a personality change throughout the course of the picture. But here’s the thing: it works. Koepp, whose normal kingdom of filmmaking is more along the lines of writing Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park, lends his pen and eye to Ghost Town’s barefaced romantic-comedy and essentially pulls off the shift. He creates a film that is modest, low on effects, and high on the human element. And he knows how to work with his performers to offer them plenty of time to run with the humour.