Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ghost Town: Grade B

Ghost Town (2008)
Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Kristin Wiig. Cowriter-Director David Koepp.

Gervais is a misanthropic Manhattan dentist who clinically dies for 7 minutes in a hospital and afterward is able to see and converse with ghosts. One such is Kinnear, who wants him to prevent his widow (Leoni) from marrying a lawyer he thinks is a sleazeball. Gervais reluctantly agrees but then falls for Leoni himself and confuses her by revealing information that only her dead husband would have known.

The story is a composite of many ghost stories, including Topper, Ghost, and The Sixth Sense and there is even a bit of Groundhog Day. Gervais was the original boss in The Office before it was remade for American TV and I am highly susceptible to his brand of understated British humor. He is a great face actor as well. I am also a fan of seldom-seen Leoni. Her face and voice are particularly expressive. Kristin Wiig, well known from SNL, plays the surgeon presiding over the hospital disaster. She is a comic genius. Kinnear holds his own against these huge talents. The directing and editing let us feel the characters’ situations, and the writing is laugh until you cry funny with these players. Overall however, story is an implausible, overly sentimental romantic comedy that is quite pointless. The “message” that the living clinging to the dead is what makes them remain as ghosts, is flatly contradicted in the final act. The romance between Gervais and Leoni has zero chemistry. In fact none of the characters is literally believable so the movie is more like an elongated sketch. And the sentimentality inherent in a ghost story is nothing but cheap emotional exploitation. But despite the weak story, the jokes are genuinely funny.

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