Film review – Ghost Town (2008)

Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) and Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear)
Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) and Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear)

What do Haley Joel Osment, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr. and now Ricky Gervais all have in common? They have all played characters who can see dead people. As in The Sixth Sense, Ghost and Heart and Souls, Ghost Town is again using the idea that if you die without resolving certain issues then you hang around Earth as a ghost until you can find somebody who is able to see you and help you out. This time that someone is a New York dentist named Bertram Pincus (Gervais), who acquires the ability to see dead people after he himself dies for seven minutes during a routine colonoscopy. The problem is that Bertram doesn’t like the living so is less than happy about the multitude of dead people now bugging him for favours. Bertram reluctantly makes a deal with ghost Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), agreeing to stop his widowed wife Gwen (Téa Leoni) from remarrying and in return Frank will keep the other ghosts away from him. When Bertram finds himself falling for Gwen Ghost Town very quickly establishes itself as a likable but conventional romantic comedy.

Once more Gervais plays a man who is frequently insulting, socially awkward and yet somehow sympathetic and endearing. Ghost Town sees Gervais doing his usual shtick of speaking in half sentences, making stupid remarks that only get worse as he tries to talk his way out, and being a bit of a bastard. He’s doing nothing new but that’s fine. The frequent scenario in Ghost Town of him talking to a ghost that nobody else can see and then trying to rationalise why he is seemingly making random comments to thin air, allows Gervais to work the type of comedy that he knows best. Leoni is also great as Gwen and it is a credit to the film that she is a fully rounded character and not just a passive object-of-desire. A special mention must also go to Saturday Night Live regular Kristen Wiig who is absolutely hilarious as Bertram’s surgeon.

Bertram and Gwen (Téa Leoni)
Bertram and Gwen (Téa Leoni)

Gervais and Leoni are not a convincing romantic couple but they do have the chemistry of a pair of close friends. There is one brilliant scene where Ghost Town captures the dynamic between friends where they can make each other laugh with deliberately inappropriate jokes. Neither character needs to qualify the fact that they are being deliberately stereotypical and offensive; it is just a private moment of mutual wickedness. Otherwise Ghost Town is more of a frequent chuckle film rather than a big laughs film. Some of the scenes drag a little but overall it is a good and competent comedy.  

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. I started watching this simply as a neutral wife friendly movie and found myself thoroughly enjoying Gervais character. It says a lot about his talent to be able to make a movie like this shine a little.

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