Ghost Town is the kind of supernatural comedy that we haven’t seen since the early 90’s; back when cinemagoers weren’t jaded, highly skeptical individuals. Times have changed. These days, a startling depiction of poverty in modern Mumbai is the closest thing we’ve got to a fairytale. So Ghost Town, a sincere comedy about life and death, comes as a welcome surprise to those who loved classics like Defending Your Life and Heart and Souls. Apparently there aren’t a lot of us left – following a terrible theatrical run in the U.S, Ghost Town currently sits as the 2,973rd highest grossing film in history (ED: since this review was originally published in February, Ghost Town has since slipped to 3,021!).
U.K comedy legend (Too soon? Nah.) Ricky Gervais stars as curmudgeonly dentist Bertram Pincus; a man with little to live for, and less to die for. His intense disdain for anyone occupying his general vicinity extends from his patients, to his colleagues, to his widowed neighbor Gwen (Leoni) to the entire population of New York. During a routine colonoscopy, Pincus briefly dies; an infrequent result of the general anesthetic. When he comes to, he finds NY to be much more crowded.
Pincus has scored himself a pesky sixth sense – the ability to see ghosts walking amongst the living. The deceased are excited; they finally have contact with a living being that can go about and finish their unfinished business (why do they always have unfinished business). The most desperate of the spirits is Frank (Kinnear), the cheating and conniving late husband of the cute archeologist Gwen. She’s about to marry a real jerk, and if Pincus wants Frank to keep the other ghosts at bay, he’ll have to break-up Gwen’s new relationship. Which leads to the real question – can Ricky Gervais be a convincing romantic lead? Amazingly, yes.
It’s great to finally see Gervais in a starring role, and although he hasn’t had a hand in the script, this guy is a master of delivery. As a fan who has ploughed through every episode of The Office and Extras, every hour of his podcast and radio show, and even a couple of his kiddie books, his unique schtick doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. However, I’m heartened to believe that there will be some viewers unfamiliar with Ricky’s work, and will fall in love with him here. Kinnear and Leoni are perfectly charming in fulfilling the other corners of this romantic triangle, but this is The Gervais Show.
Director David Koepp is known round Hollywood as a screenwriting gun for hire, having penned studio blockbusters such as Spider-Man, War of the Worlds and, ahem, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Behind the camera, Koepp has a penchant for unmemorable thrillers such as Secret Window and Stir of Echoes. So it’s kind of strange to see him put his efforts into a supernatural comedy, let alone one that actually works quite well. As a comedy, the film is funny enough, although it never quite reaches gut-busting, laugh-out-loud heights. However, as a meditation on death and the tragedy of life, the film is (surprisingly) effective. The picture’s final third is tremendously touching, and ends on a note of genuinely earned sweetness.
Ghost Town does introduce some interesting concepts around the mythos of death, including the whole ‘unfinished business’ business (which I’ll leave to the film to more poetically describe). Also effective is the idea that ghosts are doomed to walk the earth in the clothes they die in. For instance, Frank is decked out in a tuxedo because he expired on the way to a fancy ball. A war nurse is still wearing her old-fashioned attire, and a couple of construction workers are still in their (ineffective) hardhats. One poor soul is buck naked. I don’t even want to know how he kicked the bucket.