The riskiest move where films are concerned these days is to attempt to make a movie that relies on charm or romantic ideals. Swing Vote dared to do this by reviving the formula that made director Frank Capra a household name and withered at the box office. It appears that a similar fate awaits David Koepp’s Ghost Town, an unabashedly sweet work that not only provides a showcase for one of the most talented comedic actors working today but also stands as a throwback to the era of the 30s and 40s, when lighthearted but genuine films of this sort were commonplace.
Ricky Gervais of The Office fame (the better, British version) stars as dentist Bertram Pincus, a dentist wound so tight he literally squeaks when he walks. Nothing makes him happier than to stuff gauze in a patient’s mouth to keep them from talking. In fact, he is still recovering from a broken heart and is in no shape for any sort of intimate human contact. Imagine his surprise when he realizes that he can see ghosts after he dies on the operating table during a colonoscopy for seven minutes. Not only is he being hounded by the living — but the dead as well.
One spirit, Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), simply won’t let Pincus be and finally convinces him to contact his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni), who wants to prevent her from marrying another man. The reluctant dentist introduces himself, ingratiates himself into her life and soon finds himself falling for her. Needless to say, complications ensue.
There’s a certain amount of predictability at play here, yet the cast does such a fine job that they bring this potentially tepid material to life. Kinnear is properly slimy and ultimately sympathetic, while Leoni effortlessly exudes sweetness and smarts so sincerely that it’s easy to see why her character’s dead husband would come back form the dead for her. But the film rests on Gervais’ shoulders and he is up to the task of carrying it. He’s the master when it comes to being the flustered everyman and the screenplay gives him plenty of opportunity to be just that, what with having to deal with the many specters that have intruded upon him. However, what makes the film worthwhile is the actor’s ability to convincingly execute the sense of pathos in the movie’s third act. Pincus’ sense of cynicism slowly melts away as he comes to realize that through helping these ghosts put their unfinished business to rest, he himself is coming back to life, resurrecting his long dormant spirit of generosity.
Ghost Town quietly sneaks up on you, providing a genuinely moving climax in which Koepp and his cast quietly, but effectively, remind us that no good deed ever is done in vain. The maxim that by helping others, we help ourselves is an ancient sentiment, yet it is one that needs to be heard now more than ever.
Ghost Town is currently at the Beverly and Savoy theatres.
Runtime: 1h 42min — Rated PG-13 — Scifi/Fantasy