Ghost Town

Directed by David Koepp

Starring Ricky Gervais, Téa Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Billy Campbell, Kristen Wiig, Dana Ivey, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Ruck

Written by David Koepp and John Kamps

David Koepp has had part in very many blockbusters.  The writer of great movies like Jurassic Park, Spiderman, Carlito’s Way and Men in Black, good movies like Mission Impossible, Panic Room and Stir of Echoes, and trash like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Angels and Demons and the latest Indiana Jones flick, he knows how to write a professional draft as well as anyone.  The movies he directs tend to make less, but are more consistently good.  Ghost Town is no exception.

In what plays like a Bill Murray circa late ’80’s and early ’90’s film, Ricky Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a grouch of a dentist, who doesn’t so much dislike “the crowd, as the individuals within the crowd.”  He spends his day avoiding conversation, offers to help or be helped and generally just forcing his way through life like it is a chore.  Then an accident during a routine procedure leads to him dying for 7 minutes, coming back to life, and having a whole new slew of people to avoid: ghosts.

While most movies treat ghosts a source of fear, at least temporarily, Pincus finds them as a whole new slew of souls to avoid.  That is, until he is irritated into submission by Greg Kinnear’s Frank to help prevent his widow, Gwen (Téa Leoni) from marrying her new beau Richard (Campbell).  From this beginning, we are taken some places that you’d expect (Pincus gets a crush on Gwen) and some you wouldn’t (Richard is not a jerk).  The way they get there, however, is the biggest treat.  Gervais handles the maneuver from boor to not so boorish in spectacular fashion.  Leoni’s Gwen feels like a living, breathing person, totally within her element onscreen.  If she is never nominated for an Oscar in her life, I will be surprised.

As the lead ghost, Frank, Kinnear shows the kind of ability that continues to get him roles.  He is a natural dramas with comic elements (Sabrina, As Good As It Gets), given the right direction.  He tends to flounder in straight action, drama or comedy.  His career has been a frustrating one, as I never feel like he is the tipping point on choosing to watch a movie.  Here, he is way above the bar.  Just like Pincus, Frank continues to resist change, and this is key in preventing the movie from being a sap fest.  To her extended credit, Leoni does not treat this as an opportunity for schmaltz either.  She is confused, at times, indecisive at other times, but never a victim.

Gervais has the potential for comic genius, and he is fully on his game here.  There are some absolutely priceless scenes here.  His back and forth with Wiig is unlike any scene of its kind I have seen, and his dinner scene with Gwen and Michael is pure magic.  There are very few scenes that come across as obligatory.  The big reveal with Ruck’s family is so unexpectedly sweet, it makes one wonder what else could have happened if they had more fully explored the rest of the ghosts lives.

I had originally intended to review The Invention of Lying, released last year, but it was so mundane, I decided to go for the one preceding it.  Gervais had a bigger role (co-writer and co-director) in Lying, but his work was more intricate here.  He and Koepp took an overused idea and made it into a little piece of gold.

(**** out of  *****)

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