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Ghost Town (2008) ***1/2

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 42min
Director: David Koepp
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Téa Leoni
Genre: Comedy
Language: English

Getting People to Really Die Can Be a Funny Business

In a Nutshell

Plot

Straight as an Arrow
Twisty

Sound Quality

Easy to Hear
Incomprehensible

Who's That?

Few Main Characters
Lots

Naughty Words

Mild
Foul

Naked people

None
Lots

Violence

Tame
Bloody

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It’s the sort of scene you could, but wouldn’t want to, find yourself in: A hospital doctor and lawyer are explaining that, yes, something did go, ahem, a little wrong while you were having your full-anesthetic colonoscopy.

You died for seven minutes.

Sound serious? Not this time, not in this movie. Is it, au contraire, one of the most hilarious scenes in what overall is a wacko comedy that serves as the perfect platform for one of Britain’s seriously funny men, Ricky Gervais.

Gervais, star of the hit television series “The Office” and “Extras,” plays a curmudgeonly dentist living in Manhattan who shuts up his ever-yapping patients by stuffing their mouths with dental equipment.

It’s not crowds he doesn’t like, he explains to Téa Leoni, who plays an Egyptologist who lives in the same apartment building, “it’s just the individuals in them.”

What complicates his life, however, is that after being dead for seven minutes, he sees, and is seen by, people he has never ever seen before. All around him, usually on what looks life Fifth Avenue and Central Park, people approach and entreat him to help them take care of the one little bit of business that is keeping them from going to their final resting place.

The people are ghosts, even though they look and sound like real people. But they’re people only Gervais can see and communicate with.

But Gervais doesn’t want to be bothered, even though the more he ignores the ghosts’ pleas the more bothersome they become.

One, in particular, just refuses to go away. Greg Kinnear, dressed up in a tuxedo, tells Gervais that, although he cheated on his former wife, he has her interests at heart and is sure that her present fiancé is interested purely in her money. If Kinnear is to achieve release from this world, he has to right the wrong that he did, even if it means making Gervais’s life hell.

Under Kinnear’s coaching, Gervais is encouraged to show more than neighborly interest in Leoni, who happens to be the Egyptologist in his building. The two already have a history, however, which Leoni is not shy to bring up: Gervais has been consistently rude to her on every occasion their trails have crossed, so if he’s to gain her confidence, and wean her away from the fiancé (Billy Campbell) he has a lot of work to do.

Given the choice between a living hell and an attractive Leoni, Gervais undergoes a change of personality. In seeking her favor he becomes the Gervais his fans know and love: that wide, dentally revealing smile, self-reproaching jokes, a sometimes biting wit and a stumbling charmer.

For Gervais in particular it’s a home run (that’s a six, if there are any cricket fans out there) in his first starring role in a movie. But full marks as well to Kinnear and Leoni, a very attractive actress who plays her part with just the right mix of interest and detachment.

It’s a film with warmth, humor and great background music, if classic-sounding rock is your thing. Try it, you’ll like it.

Extra! Check out Ricky Gervais and the BBC chatting about America’s obsession with perfect teeth!

A lifelong journalist, Terence Neilan started his career in his home country, England, and then moved to New York in 1970. After a couple of years as an editor at The New York Post, he moved to The New York Times, where he worked as an editor and Website reporter for 29 years, retiring in 2005.

Comments

Lynn said on September 23, 2008

 


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Terry — I love your review! Maybe I’ll go see Ghost Town again. It was my first “exposure” to Gervais and in fact it was a virtuoso performance.

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