Ghost Town, the new romantic comedy from writer-director David Koepp, succeeds in not only introducing its British star Ricky Gervais to a wider audience but also in telling a simple, familiar story with an addictive charm all its own. Gervais plays Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets without the extreme OCD. What he lacks in this, however, he makes up for in his hatred of humanity. While Nicholson’s character was a chauvinist, Gervais is what I would call a “no”-vinist… he hates both genders equally. (Sometimes I can relate, especially around the holidays.)
Using the familiar construct of dead people needing someone to take care of their unfinished business, the script could get bogged down in all the familiar pitfalls: tug-tug moments of single moms and their children, families feuding over simple misunderstandings, and boneheaded tough-guy biker-types with hearts of gold looking out for the women they leave behind. It does venture into these areas; however, it doesn’t forget who its main characters are, and as a result comes across as something fresh and original.
Laughs occur periodically, and always seems to grow out of plot. (Imagine that.) Rather than calling this a romantic comedy, I suppose it should be called a good story that happens to be funny. After Gervais’ Bertram Pincus (great British name, by the way) comes out of his requested anesthetic during that most humbling of all male-over-30 rituals, the colonoscopy, he becomes annoyed by the ever-present experience of seeing ghosts that need his help. Chief among these Deadites (wait, wrong movie), we have Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), a womanizing husband who somehow really loves his wife Gwen (Tea Leoni) despite constant unfaithfulness, and wants Pincus to stop her from marrying her new fiancé. This mission leads Pincus on a journey from jerk to leading man as he finds himself falling for Gwen, and loving her to the point that he realizes he will have to change in order to deserve her.
Will he change in time? Or will Gwen be the victim of yet another potentially bad marriage? The answers are not always expected, but they are satisfying. And just an observation about Koepp’s storytelling: he knows exactly how to end things.
Colors are clean, vibrant, and accurate, creating – along with the many beautiful New York landscapes – a crisp picture that draws you in to its whole world, and makes you want to stay for a little longer than the duration of the film. The city is a living, breathing character throughout. I could honestly not imagine a better setting for the quirkiness of Bertram and Gwen, and their developing relationship. Dreamworks lays it out for us with a beautiful 1.85:1 widescreen presentation.
English, Spanish, and French 5.1 tracks are included on the disc. All sound phenomenal with the film offering more power moments than one would expect. When one character gets mowed down by a bus, it hits with Final Destination-style force that is completely unexpected for a film like this. (Thankfully, they leave out the blood – nothing against it, but in a Rom-Com?) The rest of the film is quiet and reserved, save for a smile-inducing soundtrack that is a little bit Beatles and a little bit Woody Allen-film. Another fine job from Dreamworks…
The feature-length commentary with Koepp and Gervais is light and informative fun, with Koepp taking care of the “informative” and Gervais the “fun,” though he is considerably more low-key here than he is in the Making Ghost Town featurette (only about 20 minutes). Ghostly Effects runs a shade under three minutes and just shows some of the computer work done on effects. Lastly, we have Some People Can Do It, a simple 6-minute gag reel. Your time is best spent on the commentary and Making Ghost Town featurette.
Koepp’s tale plays within the genre, but he routinely changes formula in order to distinguish his film from its peers, which is definitely a good thing. While its main characters are older, I dare say it’s a terrific date film for any demographic that only gets better the second time around. The A/V presentation is by-the-numbers brilliance for new releases in this age of DVD/Blu-Ray, and bonus materials are few, but satisfying – all in all, a release that should haunt your collection for some time to come.