David Koepp is one of Hollywood’s power screenwriters. His credits include Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and Spider-Man. As a director he has also had some limited success with films like Stir Of Echoes. It seems almost from left field that we end up with a romantic comedy both written and directed by the award winning writer. If Koepp is out of his element here, it really doesn’t show at all. Of course the entire idea is far from an original one, but he handles it with relative competency. All of the essential elements are in place, and he has managed to surround himself with a fairly good cast and crew. This is the first American star vehicle for British funny man Ricky Gervais. His style is definitely one of British humor, but it translates well for the character he’s been given here. It’s actually a very clever bit of casting. The end result isn’t going to add any additional statues to his mantle, but it does provide some harmless entertainment for that rainy, or snowy, depending upon where you happen to be, day.
Dentist Bertram Pincus (Gervais) is a perfect role model for Ebenezer Scrooge. He has little use for other people. He avoids contact whenever possible and takes a perverse pleasure in watching others struggle, doing what he can to perpetuate their discomfort. He’s the kind of guy that will offer to hold the elevator only to close the door in your face just as you reach it. One day he is having a routine examination under general anesthesia. He dies for 7 minutes and is brought back to life. Everything appears fine, except now he has this annoying ability to see dead people all around him. As soon as they catch on that there’s someone who can see and hear them, they gravitate to him, imploring him to help with their unfinished business. Of course, Pincus wants no part of that at all. One such spirit, however, is particularly persistent in annoying Pincus. Frank (Kinnear) has recently been hit by a bus and wants to break up his widow’s budding new romance. He was a cheater in life and now can’t stand to see her with someone he believes is too much like him. After constant harassment, Pincus agrees to take on the job, but not out of kindness for Frank. It seems Pincus has become smitten with Frank’s widow, Gwen (Leoni). She works at the local natural history museum, and Pincus offers his dental expertise to help her examine a new mummy that holds her interest. Before long the two are a couple, but that wasn’t exactly what Frank had in mind, either. He attempts, rather successfully, to derail Pincus from his courtship. Pincus pretty much has his epiphany and decides to try and care a bit more about others. He helps a few of the other spirits and starts to feel good about helping others. In the end, when Pincus himself is again teetering between life and death, he does get a second chance.
Credit whoever cast Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear for making this film work as more than its intended romantic comedy chops. I would not have had much interest in the film if not for some of the rather good chemistry between these two. Both bring their characters to life. Gervais couldn’t have been better at playing the Scrooge role here, and he does it in an incredibly subtle way. There’s no need for over the top overacting here, which has become the mold for these kinds of roles. His take on the character is a refreshing underplay of the character’s faults. This is not a character you are going to want to like. So Koepp has the unenviable task of getting you to root for what is essentially a pretty bad guy. Gervais makes it happen. Kinnear works as an almost perfect straight man from the beginning. I think there is potential for a solid team here, and I’d like to see the two together again soon. Tea Leoni does what she has to do here. Nothing more, nothing less. The soon to be former Mrs. Mulder hasn’t had many good roles in recent years, and for the kind of acting she does, they’re not likely to get any better anytime soon. The supporting cast of ghosts are all pretty good. The acting makes what could have been an overused idea since The Sixth Sense, and makes it at least interesting. You guys will be glad to know that the romantic angle doesn’t ever sink to the warm and fuzzy puke fest I usually associate with the term romantic comedy.
Ghost Town is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This isn’t going to be one of those films that just cries out for the high definition treatment. With that said, it’s a very solid 1080p image via an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. This is a pretty bright film most of the time. Lighting looks quite natural, allowing for vivid but natural looking colors. Flesh tones are pretty much reference here. Black levels are rock solid, as is the contrast throughout. Again, the film doesn’t necessitate it, but the Blu-ray image is a solid one, indeed.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is a little above average. You’re not going to be looking for an aggressive use of surrounds, so you’re just not going to get it. The dialog totally drives the film, and it’s perfectly placed and mixed. You’ll hear every word clearly. Once in a while you’ll get a little ear candy, most notably from the score. It’s just enough to remind you of the total environment.
There is a rather humorous Commentary Track with David Koepp and Ricky Gervais. They’re having some fun together and offer as many laughs as they do bits of information concerning the film.
The extras are pretty much presented in HD.
Making Ghost Town: Cast and crew mostly talk story points, and you get a lot of the film’s synopsis and some background here. There was apparently a lot of adlibbing on the set, making it look a bit more fresh and spontaneous. Gervais fools around with a boxer puppy during his interview bits.
Some People Can Do It: This is actually a 6 minute blooper reel. Funny stuff.
Ghostly Effects: A very brief 2 minute look at some animated pre-visualization shots.
I liked Ghost Town more than I intended to. Certainly I expect to have a sense of open-mindedness when I watch a film, but I really don’t like romantic comedies all that much. They cause me to do a lot of squirming in my seat. This film didn’t really do that, so it gets points just for not sucking. Actually it’s far more about Gervais and Kinnear than it is about Pincus and Gwen. That was more than OK by me. So, suddenly I’m watching a romantic comedy that’s “not a total disaster”.