Hollywood is littered with the shattered careers of comedians who tried to make the ill-advised leap to romantic lead. Look at Mike Myers in So I Married an Axe Murderer or Jim Carrey in The Majestic. We don’t love comedians when they shut off the part of their appeal we most enjoy. Fortunately, Ricky Gervais is a master comedian who knows his strengths and brings them to his role as Bertram Pincus, DDS in Ghost Town.
Pincus is about as caring a dentist as Tilda Swinton is a pediatrician in Burn Before Reading. He hates people, so when he forces his mealy-mouthed doctor (Kristin Wiig) to put him under for a routine colonoscopy, it’s karmic justice that he dies briefly on the operating table and awakens able to see ghosts.
They chase, hound, and startle him relentlessly, until one particularly pushy ghost, deceased philandering businessman Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) calls off the crowds in return for one favor. He wants Bertram to break up his widow’s (Tea Leoni) impending marriage to a virtuously dull crusader (Billy Campbell). Now, of course, we’ve seen variations on this theme from Topper to Ghost to The Sixth Sense to Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Ghost Whisperer, but writer/director David Koepp manages to put his own spin on the genre.
Ghost Town succeeds because Gervais is such a likable performer, even when playing a misanthropic jerk like Pincus. Tea Leoni has always been a marvelous actress on television and the movies, so it’s nice to see her given a role that shows her vulnerable and comic sides. Her character in Spanglish went so far over the line of being bearable that it’s nice to see what she can do when given a well-written role. Kinnear is a perfect choice as the forceful phantom, because he can harness his smarminess and use it to perfect effect. The supporting cast of ghostly nuisances is filled with wonderful talents like Dana Ivey and Alan Ruck. While there isn’t a terribly original plot at work in Ghost Town, I have to admit I enjoyed its spirit.
UPDATE: Ghost Town is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.