Bertram Pincus, D.D.S. (Ricky Gervais) is dead...or at least he was, for just under seven minutes. His brief departure into the afterlife has triggered an "ability" to see and interact with dead people; specifically, those with unfinished business from their former lives. They soon pester the good doctor into helping them resolve said business---but as a man who outright detests social interaction, Pincus simply wants to be left alone. A particularly smooth-talking spirit, Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), manages to grab his attention with a deal: if Pincus can break up the impending marriage of his widow, Gwen (Téa Leoni), Frank promises the reluctant clairvoyant that he will Live In Peace. As fate would have it, though, Pincus develops feelings for Gwen...even though her new fiancée makes the average Boy Scout look like a social degenerate.
Co-written and directed by David Koepp, Ghost Town manages to strike a solid balance between romantic comedy and light-hearted ghost story during the bulk of its 102-minute running time. Gervais is particularly likable as the central character: his awkward interactions with those that irritate him (read: just about everyone) anchor the story quite well, reminding us that a less experienced funnyman would've brought this production to a screeching halt. His gradual affection for the soon-to-be-married Gwen is believable enough, thanks to the intelligent spark and attractive quirks infused by Leoni. As the spirit with the most screen time, Kinnear turns in a solid performance on par with Gervais'; cursed with a somewhat despicable personality of his own, Frank Herlihy is a man whose mistakes reveal a certain humility hidden behind layers of cockiness. His transformation into "invisible wingman" partners well with Pincus, who Herlihy can't help but live vicariously through.
An aside: perhaps it's the Manhattan setting, the somewhat downbeat atmosphere, the presence of Greg Kinnear or simply the "socially-awkward-guy-comes-out-of-his-shell" factor, but Ghost Town bears a spiritual resemblance to 1997's As Good As It Gets. One could argue that it feels often feels like a dozen other romantic comedies along the way, but it's a feeling I just couldn't shake (though as a fan of the Jack Nicholson vehicle, there's certainly worse films to mimic).
Despite a fairly consistent parade of gags, Ghost Town can't help but struggle a bit in the home stretch. It tends to grasp at straws while building momentum during the third act; luckily, the ending we eventually reach isn't loaded with artificial sweetener. The typical "romantic comedy formula" may prove more irritating than Gervais' ghosts---but the comedy manages to outweigh the romance, if that's any consolation. In short, fans of Gervais and Kinnear (or those just looking for a sturdy date movie, of course) should find Ghost Town a pleasing and briskly-paced offering worthy of repeat viewings. It may not burn up the box office, but this perfectly entertaining effort ushers in Autumn with an appropriate mix of comedy, heart and pathos. Recommended.
Related Links: Ghost Town Official Site (view trailer) | Ricky Gervais...Obviously.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.