NOTE: Portions of this writing are taken from my theatrical review of the film.
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 the colder climate with an appropriate mix of comedy, heart and pathos.
Presented on DVD by Dreamworks, Ghost Town will undoubtedly arrive in stores the same way it did at the box office: with relatively little fanfare. This lightweight but entertaining one-disc package floats by with a decent technical presentation and a small amount of generally by-the-book bonus features. It's certainly not "Disc of the Year" quality, but Gervais fans and other interested parties should get their money's worth. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Ghost Town looks just fine from start to finish. The generally subdued color palette has been represented nicely, image detail is solid and there's very little dirt and debris spotted along the way. Digital problems, such as edge enhancement and digital noise, have been kept to an absolute minimum. Overall, there's very little to complain about here, so fans should be pleased with DreamWorks' efforts.
The audio is also perfectly fine, but this dialogue-driven comedy won't exactly push the limits of your setup. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Ghost Town is also available in French or Spanish 2.0 Surround tracks. Music and a few subtle atmospheric effects also drift into the rear channels on occasion, creating a pleasing soundstage that gets the job done. English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included during the main feature and all applicable bonus features.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the animated menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 102-minute main feature has been divided into a modest 12 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind.
Not much beyond the standard platter of extras, but what's here is largely satisfying. A feature-length Audio Commentary with director David Koepp and actor Ricky Gervais is up first, complete with plenty of production stories and goofing around. These two participants are obviously comfortable with one another---and though there's plenty of standard-issue back-patting along the way, this one's definitely worth a listen (especially for fans of Gervais, of course). On a related note is a fairly plain-wrap Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (21:07) with comments from Koepp and key cast members; like the commentary, it's heightened by the comedic talents of those on board.
Also here is the curious "Ghostly Effects" (2:03), a brief and virtually dialogue-free demonstration of the film's special effects. This is barely worth a once-over as it doesn't really explain much, but short enough that fans won't mind. Last but not least is "Some People Can Do It" (6:23), a gag reel peppered with plenty of Gervais flubs and other happy accidents. All bonus features are presented in anamorphic widescreen when applicable; subtitles are included as well. A decent effort overall, though the film's trailer is nowhere to be found.
Ghost Town isn't exactly a "Sleeper Hit of the Year" candidate, but this relatively unseen romantic comedy is certainly worth a look. Charming performances by Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear and Téa Leoni elevate the material nicely, while the linear but original story paves the way for plenty of laughs. DreamWorks' one-disc package is slightly vanilla but still carries its own weight, boasting a solid technical presentation and a few minor extras worth watching. Interested parties may want to try before they buy, but fans of Gervais and company should find plenty to enjoy. Recommended.
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.