Rated PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references.
Starring Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni, Billy Campbell, Aasif Mandvi, Kristen Wiig, Alan Ruck.
Written by David Koepp and John Kamps.
Directed by David Koepp.
By Dan Metcalf
It's been a long summer, and it seemed even longer as August came with its endless string of really bad movies. Even so, there have been a few Summer gems, most notably The Dark Knight, which is setting all kinds of box office records. The biggest Summer hits have been the action films, but now approaches the time of year when all those movies not exciting enough or are too quirky sneak in between the explosions and holidays. Sometimes as the leaves begin to change, there comes an unexpected movie that doesn't get a lot of hype, but is nonetheless fantastic, despite the conventional Hollywood wisdom that pushed it into a Fall release. That unexpected Autumn pleasure for 2008 is Ghost Town, the best romantic comedy of the year, and one of the best films of the year.
Rick Gervais, a British actor and one of the driving forces behind he original TV series The Office (The U.K.'s predecessor to NBC's highly successful American version) plays Bertram Pincus, an English dentist living in Manhattan. Pincus is a loner who avoids all contact with people, especially if such contact involves any kind of conversation (this avoidance makes for some comical moments in dentistry as well). When Pincus officially dies for seven minutes during a colonoscopy, he is suddenly able to see myriads of ghosts who roam the streets of New York City looking for someone to take care of their unfinished business before they can travel to the great beyond.
Pincus, with his asocial tendencies toward the living, is bombarded and harassed by the ghosts, especially one in particular named Frank (Greg Kinnear); a philandering smooth talker who met his doom while talking on his Blackberry cell phone. Frank wants Pincus to stop his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni) from marrying hunky, altruistic and boring human rights activist (Billy Campbell) who he thinks is trying to cheat her out of her inheritance. Pincus, who lives in the same building as Gwen has already encountered her many times, with rude results. When Pincus is faced with having actual conversations with Gwen, he falls in love with her and has several uncomfortable moments as he adjusts to positive human interaction.
Gwen and Pincus become friends, and just as they are about to become closer, she finds out the real reason behind his affection, she discards their relationship, sending him back into his empty life, albeit still haunted by ghosts who need his help to bring closure to their lives and the ones they left behind.
In the end, Pincus must deal with his feelings for Gwen while struggling with becoming an individual who can make a difference in people's lives...or deaths, for that matter.
There are several aspects of Ghost Town that make it one of the best movies of the year, and atop that list is Ricky Gervais, a man of great comedic talent who could not be more perfect for the role of Pincus. It's soooo refreshing to see a man who doesn't fit the standard mold of a leading man in romantic comedy, and is able to make that role his own. Gervais' flair for sarcasm and quit wit are the heart and soul of Ghost Town, and his character's development isn't your typical clichéd movie epiphany where the previously heartless man wakes up in the morning like Ebeneezer Scrooge, reborn. Gervais' Pincus seems to get to the same place as Scrooge, but he comes along kicking and screaming, making Ghost Town all the more unique.
The other actors in Ghost Town are superb as well, including Leoni, Kinnear, and other cameos from the likes of Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live), who has shown a knack for stealing scenes of late, and delivers some hysterical dialog as Pincus' colonoscopy doctor.
Ghost Town is certainly the best romantic comedy since last year's Dan in Real Life. It strays from all the tried-and-true Hollywood formulas of who should be leading men, and allows for substance over the typical facade. Something else surprising in Ghost Town is its successful delivery of a unique film while utilizing aspects of several other familiar-themed movies, like 1991's Ghost, 1993's Heart and Souls, 2005's Just Like Heaven and other ghost-like comedies.
There are plenty of laughs, and Ghost Town is suitable for most audiences, except for a little language and adult humor. So instead of seeing The Dark Knight for the sixth time, go ahead and see Ghost Town. You'll be glad you did.