Ghost Town (B+)
Starring Ricky Gervais, Téa Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Kristen Wiig, Aasif Mandvi
Written by David Koepp & John Camps
Directed by David Koepp
Ghost Town is the most pleasant surprise of 2008.
What could have been a painfully unfunny and misguided vehicle from the seriously hilarious Ricky Gervais is actually a pleasant romantic comedy that makes up for its trips into cliché with consistently sharp, chuckle-inducing jokes and impeccable timing.
And the person most responsible for this movie's success is Gervais himself. Yes, the master of sarcasm is up to his old tricks again as Bertram Pincus, D.D.S., a character as awkward as his name. His people skills leave something to be desired, as he avoids contact with the living as much as possible. (His reasonings are later explained, but not as fully as I would've liked. But hey, this isn't supposed to be As Good as it Gets.)
So imagine his surprise--and irritation--when, after his death and resurrection on the operating table, he can, like little Haley Joel Osment, see dead people. And he's gotta help them. Just like little Haley Joel Osment.
Yes, Ghost Town cribs a LOT from Sixth Sense, but this ain't no horror show. This one's strictly for the laughs. And there are plenty.
Anyone who's seen the original Office knows Gervais elicits laughs like few other sitcom actors. And his first big exposure to U.S. audiences (which makes it even sadder that Ghost Town bombed opening weekend) will win over lots of loyal fans. Not only does he shine in his showdowns with his nurse (Audrie Neenan), his surgeon (Kristen Wiig, again proving she's better than SNL), and the otherworldly thorn in his side Frank (Greg Kinnear, gliding through this role with the greatest of ease), he's also got outstanding chemistry with his neighbor Gwen (Téa Leoni, one of the most shamefully underutilized actresses in Hollywood).
Though their relationship starts out frosty, they grow closer as Pincus tries to fulfill the bargain Frank struck with him: break up Gwen's upcoming wedding, and the ghosts are gone for good.
And of course we all know what's coming next. Fortunately Ghost Town remains razor-sharp and hilarious throughout, and it's easy to forgive a movie this joyous for its occasional trips into cliché.
The one piece of good news about Ghost Town's poor box office performance is that soon and very soon audiences will be able to catch up with this gem on DVD. But it's worth catching anywhere. This is the year's best date movie.
Photo courtesy DreamWorks/Paramount