CAPSULE: A dentist who died for seven minutes on the operating table finds that he now can see dead people. Half of Manhattan has favors they want of him and making matters worse, it is the dead half. Ricky Gervais, popular star of BBC TV's "The Office", plays the man who doesn't like living people and now has also to deal with the dead. He is asked by a dead husband to break up his wife's relationship with a new fiance. The first half has some very good writing, but the film loses its center and wanders in its second half. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
GHOST TOWN is a supernatural comedy-drama for which the comedy elements, mostly connected with the premise, are pointed and work. The dramatic elements are a little unfocussed. This makes for a film with a great first act, and good but faulty second act and a weak conclusion. The film was co-written and directed by David Koepp. Koepp has been connected with some major fantasy films, usually as a writer. Koepp's writing can be found in JURASSIC PARK, THE SHADOW, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, STIR OF ECHOES, SPIDER-MAN, WAR OF THE WORLDS (Spielberg version), ZATHURA, and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Those are fairly major fantasy films. Here he tells a romantic story seemingly based on the premises of GHOST and especially THE SIXTH SENSE.
Like Cole Sear of THE SIXTH SENSE, Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) sees dead people. It is the after-effect of dying on an operating table for nearly seven minutes before being revived. Bertram sees the dead like Sear does, but there are not just a few unquiet spirits like we saw in THE SIXTH SENSE. This is Manhattan and there are throngs of the dead who have been waiting around for some living person to get the power to hear them. Each has a mission before he or she moves onto the next existence. Bertram just has to do one or two little things for each of them. Bertram could spend the rest of his life performing important services for the unquiet dead. Complicating matters is the fact that Bertram is just not someone who does a lot of favors. In fact, Bertram is a self-obsessed jerk who would just rather not be around people. He chose being a dentist as a profession because sticking cotton or metal into a patient's mouth generally ends conversations. He has a hard enough time putting up with the living people in his life, and he is less than happy about being the key man for so many dead people. They hound him and they follow him around. The novelty of this situation somewhat compensates for the overuse of the old gag of someone trying to cover up the fact that he is talking to someone that nobody else sees. That one got old along with the "Topper" films.
Chief among Bertram's haunters is Frank Harley (Greg Kinnear). On the day that Frank's wife Gwen (Tea Leoni) discovered Frank was leading a double life, both lives came to an end. Frank wants to make sure that the Gwen does not marry a certain creep, but being dead his options are limited. He stalks and hounds Bertram hoping to use him to save his wife. Not too surprisingly Bertram finds he has an interest in her himself. In the second half the film loses impetus and direction. We have three main characters, one living, one dead, one lost a little in between. But none of these characters seems to know what he or she wants. Instead, the tension comes from not knowing if Gwen will find out that Bertram is seeing her dead ex-husband (literally seeing him).
Fans of Ricky Gervais--and some people who do not care for him-- know him as the boorish office manager in the BBC comedy series "The Office." Koepp gets a somewhat more restrained performance from him for most of GHOST TOWN'S runtime. There are moments when his TV persona does seem to creep back on him. This is a film that takes the idea of THE SIXTH SENSE and makes a passable comedy out of it by examining what it would mean to an average man to have the power. As long as we are getting clever ideas about what it would mean to see the dead, the GHOST TOWN is a lot of fun. When it tries to become more serious the film falters and loses its center. Still I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0995039/
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper