Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is a dentist whose people skills leave much to be desired. When he technically dies during a routine minor procedure, and is revived after seven minutes, he discovers he now has the annoying ability to see ghosts. Annoying because they all want him to do something from them, particularly Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who pesters him into breaking up the impending marriage of his widow Gwen (Téa Leoni) to Richard (Bill Campbell). He schemes to insinuate himself into the relationship but it's a dangerous ploy.
Review by Louise Keller:
Not since Alan Arkin in The In-Laws has an onscreen dentist been so funny. It's all about judgment and David Koepp who has directed and co-scripted this piquant film finds the perfect combination of comedy and pathos. Ricky Gervais is brilliant as the heartless, selfish dentist who sees dead people and is recruited by Greg Kinnear's recently deceased adulterer trapped in an earthly purgatory. I laughed many times at the absurdity of the script and the situations, and was then surprised to find myself dabbing my eyes a few minutes later when emotional truths suddenly kicked in. Everything works; this beautifully judged and executed comedy fantasy grabs us by the molars and leaves us showing our pearly whites.
The set up is perfect. In the opening scene, we meet Kinner's smooth-talking Frank, who quickly shows us the gift of the gab as he compulsively lies to his wife on his mobile phone. Goodbye Frank. His exit is fast and very funny. Then we meet Gervais' insufferable dentist Bertram Pincus as he prepares for his upcoming colonoscopy. Everything that happens is a welcome surprise, including the lovely Téa Leoni as Gwen, Frank's widow who is about to marry Bill Campbell's human rights lawyer Richard. All the characters are unpredictable: Pincus's suntan-loving lady doctor, the big, burly hospital lawyer, the Indian dentist with an Einstein poster and Gwen's 'big as a horse' dog Leonard, who steals all his scenes, including the one in which his teeth are cleaned in the bath.
Koepp uses understatement like a magic wand as we suddenly find ourselves with an investment in Pincus. We want him to lose sight of all those 'dead people' and we want him to win Gwen as much as we wanted Kevin James' gauche Albert to impress Amber Valletta's heiress Allegra Cole in Hitch. Needless to say, everything goes wrong for Pincus, but we love every single minute of wrongness. New York in autumn is simply breathtaking and the trees of Central Park are shown in every glorious shade of gold, ochre and brown. But the shades that are the most satisfying are those of character and Koepp manages these skillfully in this smart and uplifting film that weaves fantasy and reality together with hilarity and truths.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The bravura blend of English eccentricity thanks to Ricky Gervais' presence and the surreal fantasy of a new take on the 'I see dead people' concept makes for highly entertaining cinema, especially in the first half. Laughing critics bent forward in stitches at our screening, as the ridiculous was handled with deadpan seriousness. The clever bit is that the supernatural fantasy is treated with all the incredulity that we would expect in real life. There is no attempt at fake spirituality, either in direction, performance or - thank goodness - with the music cues.
The result is refreshing fun, and I would have enjoyed it even more if the fun continued into the last act, when ... but that would be telling. Suffice to say, the filmmakers suck us in with humour and set up the romantic angle so that we get attached to this nerdy dentist Bertram, and give him a roller coaster ride. There is soul searching for both the dead and the living, and some home truths are thrown about like darts.
Gervais is great as Bertram Pincus (a name ripe with comic possibilities) the self centred dentist, a profession also ripe for comedic treatment, as always. Greg Kinnear is well cast as the late husband whose infidelity is the cause of his ghost's discomfort, and Téa Leoni makes a sympathetic widow who is thrown into turmoil by Bertram's attentions and weird behaviour.
The bonus is New York in autumn, with central park ablaze in bronze colours of the season, and a sense that it's a city where such things may indeed come to pass. Enjoy.
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GHOST TOWN (M)
CAST: Tea Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Ricky Gervais, Kristen Wiig, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Campbell
PRODUCER: Gavin Polone
DIRECTOR: David Koepp
SCRIPT: David Koepp, John Camps
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fred Murphy
EDITOR: Sam Seig
MUSIC: Geoff Zanelli
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Howard Cummings
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 12, 2009