The success of this sophisticated, supernatural frivolity is all about the breezy comedic appeal of sardonic, misanthropic Ricky Gervais, whose refusal to suffer fools has turned “The Office” into one of TV’s top programs.
British-born dentist Bertram Pincus (Gervais), now settled in Manhattan, is a nasty fellow, the kind of neighbor who deliberately closes the elevator door just as you’re running towards it and steals the taxi you’ve just flagged down. By his own admission, he doesn’t hate crowds,
“just the individuals within them.”
During a routine colonoscopy, Pincus “dies” for seven minutes in a “biochemical anomaly,” according to his ditsy doctor (Kristen Wiig). When he awakens, he discovers to his chagrin that not only can he “see” dead people but that many of these lost souls want to communicate their mournful “unfinished businesses” with him–and do.
Foremost among these meddlesome folk is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), a philandering husband who wants Pincus to “save” his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni), an Egyptologist at the Metropolitan Museum, from marrying a humorless human-rights lawyer (Billy Campbell). Reluctantly, Pincus agrees to befriend Gwen and, not surprisingly, he falls in love with her himself.
Think of it as “The Sixth Sense,” tinged with a humorous ghost gimmick that traces its antecedents back to “Topper” and “Blithe Spirit.” It’s not easy turning a grumpy, pudgy, wise-cracking “loser” like Gervais into a romantic leading man but director David Koepp, who wrote the screenplay with John Kamps, does an admirable job. And Tea Leoni exudes charm–as do the many supporting actors, including SNL’s Kristen Wiig, Asif Mandvi and Dana Ivey.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ghost Town” is a wryly engaging 8. It’s a funny crowd-pleaser that turns sentimental in all the right places.