Ghost Town resurrects the basic premise of a number of older films where the deceased communicate with the living, to comic and sometimes poignant effect. Unfortunately, the oldies are the goodies.
Starring Ricky Gervais as misanthropic dentist Bertram Pincus, and Greg Kinnear as philandering (and now dead) husband and ghost Frank Herlihy, the set up is simple. After “dying” for seven minutes during a colonoscopy, Pincus is accosted by ghosts who all want him to help them complete unfinished business. Herlihy is the most persistent, vowing to get the
others off Pincus’s back if he will keep his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni) from marrying someone Herlihy feels is unsuitable. Pincus, no lover of mankind with or without a pulse, is sufficiently at wits end to finally agree to Herlihy’s proposal.
There are many scenes showing just what a putz Pincus is. (He hates people so much he was attracted to dentistry precisely because you can keep people from talking.) He has equal opportunity dislike for the others in his dental practice, the people in his apartment building (and of course, Gwen is a neighbour), and New Yorkers in general. Although this is necessary to show
his later transformation, they do such a good job of making him unlikeable that, well, it’s nearly impossible to like him. Which is problematic for a lead character, and one who is supposed to be a romantic lead, no less.
Gwen, an Egyptologist, finds herself slowly won over by Pincus’s dubious charms, but then of course, as they always do in films like this, complications ensue.
I really wanted to like this movie. There were some great scenes between the three leads where I suspect that Gervais was improvising and they were happily following along. Without giving anything away, the scene at the museum where Gwen shows Pincus a certain preserved body part of a mummy she’s studying, and the speech about self-righteous teeth both come to mind.
At the end of the day, though Pincus is a slightly more bitter and self-aware version of his David Brent character in the UK “The Office” (a show I love). Despite his late-arriving good intentions it’s difficult to root for him and impossible to truly believe in his transformation. What
annoyed me more was that the tears that got jerked out of me had nothing to do with character development and story and everything to do with sappy set pieces showing the consequences of Pincus finally listening to and acting on the needs of the ghosts who have been pestering him.
The actors were great – Kristin Wiig in particular does a lot with a small part as a fake tan obsessed surgeon – but to paraphrase, the spirits may have been willing but the flesh was weak.
On the “what it’s worth” scale ... I’d say about $6 bucks. There are some decent laughs, and it would be an OK night out. Personally, I’d wait for the DVD. Maybe Pincus was less of a schmuck in the deleted scenes. Ghost Town will be released September 19.