Ghost Town (2008)

SEPTEMBER 16, 2008


I’ve covered comedies, and ghost movies are certainly in the horror vein, so I guess it’s OK to review Ghost Town here. Two non-horror movies for the day = 1 actual movie, right? Ghost Town is actually more “scary” than Swamp Women, with two violent deaths and a naked dude walking around for half the movie.

You know that scene in Ghost where Whoopi is being harassed by a ton of ghosts because they all found out she could hear/see Patrick Swayze? Well Ghost Town is essentially a full length version of that scene, as Ricky Gervais is pestered by ghosts (after he dies for 7 minutes during a colonoscopy) who all need him to do something in the living world that will allow their souls to rest. Most persistent is Greg Kinnear’s character, who died after his wife more or less discovered that he was having an affair. He wants Gervais to break up her impending marriage, but of course, Gervais starts to fall for her.

Even with the rather odd plot, the movie is pretty generic. Without the ghost angle, it’s little more than the umpteenth love triangle romcom, right down to the fight/break-up type scene 20 minutes before the film ends. I expected some more originality out of David Koepp, who made one of the best ghost movies of all time (Stir of Echoes) and has written some truly great modern movies: Carlito's Way, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man... But here he seems to be phoning it in.

However, it does have a saving grace, and that is the fantastic cast. Kinnear is always reliable, and few actors can play what is essentially a jerk and still get an audience to care about him. The brilliant Kristen Wiig has a few scenes as the surgeon who performs the colonoscopy that sets the plot in motion, and you’ll probably spend the rest of the movie wondering when she’ll come back into the story. And Tea Leoni acquits herself nicely as the put upon woman who has to deal with a dead husband, a new fiancé, and a neighbor who she cant stand at first but of course eventually begins to fall for.

That neighbor is Gervais, the film’s star and probably the biggest draw for audiences. He has the cranky jerk routine down to a science, and while the PG-13 rating restricts him a tad, he’s as cynical (and thus hilarious) as ever. You’ll be too busy laughing and cheering at his “I wish I would say that” remarks to notice the rather bland plot development. I think it’s his first starring role in a feature film, and I think it’s a great way to introduce him to US audiences who may not really be familiar with him yet other than “the guy who was on the original Office.” Also, it’s nice to see a film starring 3 middle aged actors. Other recent ghost romcoms (Over Her Dead Body, Just Like Heaven) are populated with young TV stars and starlets, but other than a couple of minor one-scene characters, its an adult cast with actors who are seasoned enough to sell the occasional lame joke and entertain the audience enough to forgive its storytelling issues.

There are some nagging flaws though that even the cast can’t help you ignore. For starters, it seems like the film was cut down, as several subplots are never really explained. For example, Kinnear is in a tux when he dies, but you never know why. Certainly they wouldn’t bother putting him in a tux if there wasn’t a scripted reason for it. Also, Gervais explains his accent by saying he moved from London to NY because London got too crowded and he hates everyone. When asked why he would pick NY, he says its complicated, but never explains it at a later time. Also, the best joke in the trailer (the difference between ghosts and zombies) isn’t even in the film, which is a damn shame.

Also, and this sort of tickled me, one of the ghosts is a mob stooge who wants Gervais to whack a guy for him. When Gervais (predictably) begins helping the ghosts out, we see a few examples (reuniting two sisters, finding a kid's favorite toy), and then he's not being bothered by the ghosts anymore. Does this mean he actually DID go murder a man to get the mob ghost to leave him alone? Awesome!

But, it’s a comedy, and on that level, it works. I was laughing a lot, which is what a good comedy should do. It’s a shame that someone of Koepp’s talent couldn’t have put a more unique spin on the story, but you will be entertained nonetheless.

What say you?

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