I was caught off guard by this film, agreeing to see it with friends without being bombarded with any advance reviews. I’m not a fan of The Office or the character Ricky Gervais created for that show, so if anything I was slightly apprehensive about seeing Ghost Town – however, I was pleasingly surprised.
Gervais plays Dr. Bertram Pincus, a misanthropic dentist who, after dying during a colonoscopy for seven minutes, can now see dead people. Fortunately for the film, but not for Gervais, they don’t want him to do a Sixth Sense and solve a murder, but they do want him to take care of a whole laundry list of unfinished tasks so they can get on with their Heavenly journey and get out of town.
Even worse, is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), a two-timing rogue of a ghost who pesters him into breaking up the impending marriage of his widow Gwen (Téa Leoni) – an Egyptologist, whose profession plays cleverly into Gervais’ dental expertise. In the middle of this triangle, Gervais finds himself completely out of his closed world curmudgeoness. It’s as if W. C. Fields suddenly found himself in the middle of a Cary Grant and Carole Lombard romantic comedy directed by Woody Allen.
Gervais is lethally funny. His character likes being a dentist because he can shove things into people's mouths when they talk too much: "You're resting your jaw. I'm resting my ears. We're all winners."
Followed by a horde of nagging ghosts, Gervais simultaneously tries to fend them off while trying to carry on conversations with living people who can't hear the dead. The situation has been a comedy staple for decades, but Gervais has both the delivery and the pointed script to deliver major laughs.
Even throwaway, seemingly improvised moments are great, such as when Gervais refuses to answer personal questions asked by a nurse or tells a doorman to stop saying "Bless you" every time he sneezes.
What Ghost Town has on its mind is so immense most dramas never approach it in heft: the yearning to have all of your affairs in order when you die. Although ghost hijinks are a very Hollywood way of dealing with the subject, the twists are executed superbly, right up to a climax that fits the David Mamet definition of what makes for a perfect ending: It is both surprising and inevitable.
JAMES BOND BENCH on the block, October 7
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