Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Tea
Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Billy Campbell, Kristen Wiig, Dana Ivey
Director: David Koepp
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: December 27, 2008
“Come back soon!”
“What a terrible thing to say in a hospital.”
Some movies prove that no matter how familiar the formula or predictable the story arc is, it’s the execution that matters. You won’t find a better example, in terms of a supernatural romantic comedy, than with the most delightful Ghost Town. It’s a movie that contains little to no surprises in the story department, but the way it is presented and performed makes for a very rewarding viewing.
Though I normally wouldn’t go anywhere near a movie like this, there was one major factor that hooked me in; the casting of British funnyman Ricky Gervais in the lead role. Gervais is quite simply one of the most brilliant comedic minds of our time. If you have yet to see any of his stand-up performances, any episodes of the original BBC version of The Office (which is even way funnier than the American version) or listened to his outlandishly hysterical podcast, you owe it to yourself to discover Gervais’ unique brand of comedy, which is guaranteed to have you howling endlessly.
Needless to say, Gervais has been long deserving of a lead role in a major comedy and has thankfully been given the perfect project to showcase his talent to an American audience, who may only recognize him from his bit parts in Stardust and Night at the Museum. He completely owns every minute of Ghost Town, and the movie is all the more winning because of him. Had there been someone else in the lead, the movie would lose a great deal of charm and wit.
Gervais strikes all the right comedic notes as Dr. Bertram Pincus, a British dentist working in NYC. He’s never been much of a people person. In fact, that’s putting it lightly because Pincus can’t stand people in general and is easily annoyed by all living souls, in particular his chatty patients.
But Pincus is about to become even more annoyed than he was before, which can’t be good. Following a colonoscopy procedure, Pincus finds himself being pestered by a number of distinctly dressed individuals who won’t stop following him around. Turns out they are ghosts, and Pincus is able to communicate with them because, much to his amazement, he died for seven minutes during the colonoscopy.
So as if dealing with the living weren’t enough to drive him up the wall, Pincus finds himself hounded mercilessly by the dead. Leading the spiritual pack is Frank (Greg Kinnear) who tells Pincus that the dead have so many questions and see the uptight dentist as a source for getting those questions answered. Frank makes a promise that if he helps in that regard, as well as do a favor for him, the dead will leave him alone for good.
The personal favor involves getting Pincus to stop Frank’s widowed wife, Gwen (Tea Leoni), from getting married to a guy he’s just not much in favor of. What makes this situation kind of crazy is the mere fact that before asking this favor, Frank gleefully admits to having an affair. “Never been married, right”, he asks the stunned Pincus.
So naturally, Pincus slowly but surely makes a transition from a douche to a kinder, more people friendly individual once he gets to know Gwen. Beforehand, she only knew him as the building resident who would steal her cab or pretend to hold the elevator while purposefully closing it. The movie soon becomes much more charming, and we buy every minute of it.
It should also be mentioned that the director and co-writer is David Koepp, who’s penned scripts for many major blockbusters such as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible and most recently Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. As a director, Koepp has specialized mainly in very intense thrillers like The Trigger Effect and the hugely underrated Stir of Echoes. So it goes without saying that a breezy, quirky comedy like Ghost Town is a huge departure for him, but it illustrates very well that Koepp can handle basically any and all types of movie genres.
If you’re as much a die-hard fan of Ricky Gervais as I am, then you simply owe it to yourself to see this. His one-of-a-kind brand of humor is in tact throughout the film. And even if you’re unfamiliar with Gervais, you will be won over completely by the equal amounts of hilarity and charm this movie has to offer. It’s very rare for me to give a great date movie recommendation, which is why I’m happy to say that Ghost Town is exactly that!
The anamorphic picture here is quite superb. The image is consistently bright in color and very sharp in detail. I did spot some slight grain in a scene or two, but nothing even remotely distracting from the overall satisfying presentation.
The 5.1 mix was indeed something of a surprise. I figured I was simply going to get a dialogue-oriented piece with this film, but the sound mix does take advantage of the scenes involving the ghosts taunting with the lead character, especially with side and rear channels. Dialogue delivery is amazing clear, and music playback is also heard terrifically.
Included on this Dreamworks release is an engaging and frequently hilarious commentary with Ricky Gervais and director David Koepp (which may give you an idea of what it's like listening to one of Gervais’ podcasts). We also get three behind the scenes featurettes; “Making Ghost Town”, “Some People Can Do It” and “Ghostly Effects”.
One of the most underrated comedies in recent memory, Ghost Town is an equally hilarious and very charming little gem. It proves that no matter how familiar or predictable a movie is, brilliant execution can really count for a lot. Most importantly, it marks a terrific showcase for the brilliant Ricky Gervais, who for my money can do no wrong at this point.