I've thought of Ricky Gervais as many things, but not "romantic-comedy star." But for those willing to take a visit to GHOST TOWN, you'll find him to be a pleasantly agreeable star after-all.
Not that Gervais' Dr. Pincus, a dentist, is pleasant. He's a quiet man, eager to do all he can to stay away from his fellow man, whether by sneaking past an office party for the exit, or not holding an elevator door open for a fellow apartment building dweller. He has disdain for ALL of mankind, and chose the life of a dentist because he can pretty much keep his patients from talking by opening their mouths and shoving things in them. Gervais, as we know from his work on THE OFFICE and EXTRAS, is perfect at this sort of misanthropic character. Unengaged with those around him, full of easy (and hilarious) contempt. The smart remarks he tosses off under his breath are quite funny. Frankly, he reminded me of something akin to Hugh Grant's older, more unpleasant brother.
Early in the film, Dr. Pincus goes in to the hospital for some minor surgery in a very indelicate spot on his body. To avoid the humiliation, he insists on a general anesthetic...and something goes wrong. He dies for seven minutes ("a little less than seven"), and when he comes to, he can suddenly see, be seen by, and interact with ghosts. And New York City is FULL of ghosts. They're all "people" with unfinished business, and in Dr. Pincus, they see a chance to finally get someone to finish their business for them so they can "move on." One particular ghost, played with his usual oily ease, is Greg Kinnear, who wants Gervais to bust up the impending marriage between his widow (Tea Leoni) and a no-good human rights attorney (Billy Campbell...looking 15 years older all of a sudden). Gervais only agrees to try this because a) Kinnear can get the other ghosts to leave him alone, and b) he actually finds Leoni interesting.
If all this sounds very familiar, I'll admit right here that although I've never seen this EXACT formula, it does sound like a mix of ghost movies from TOPPER to GHOST. But GHOST TOWN is its own unique creation, primarily because Gervais is unlike any other actor we've seen in such a role. He's an amazingly quick wit. Listen carefully, and you'll find yourself laughing out loud at half the things he says. He also is quite convincing when he begins to open up his heart just a little bit more. We see, of course, that there is a good but wounded man underneath all the nastiness.
The film holds no real surprises, but it does get many familiar pleasures right. That Leoni has never become a bigger star has always dismayed me...she's super intelligent but excellent at vulnerability...and she's capable of being funny as hell. In GHOST TOWN, she and Gervais develop a most tentative but very engaging relationship. It is...dare I say it...sweet.
Kinnear and the supporting cast are all okay, but nothing more. There are some moving moments near the end involving the other ghosts...but mostly, this is Gervais' film...ably assisted by Leoni. It feels old fashioned yet modern too. And if it weren't for two totally unneeded "f-bombs"...it would be quite suitable for ages 13 and up. But then again, this is a love story about two folks in their `40s...how many people will THAT turn off? For me, a man IN his `40s...I liked it and hope that the film finds the audience it deserves.