Living With Ghosts

26 09 2008

“Ghost Town” 2008

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni, Billy Campbell

I was pretty disappointed in the trailer for “Ghost Town.” I should have had a little more faith in Ricky Gervais.

Gervais is a British comic genius who gained fame stateside as the insufferably awkward boss-man in the British television show “The Office” (he pioneered Steve Carrell’s role in the more popular American version). In “Ghost Town,” Gervais plays Dr. Bertram Pinkus, D.D.S. (which is just how he introduces himself) and he’s every bit as uptight as his name suggests. He’s unpleasant and unfriendly, uninterested in forging a significant connection with any one of the millions of people who share his hometown of Manhattan.

Then he dies. For about seven minutes during a surgical procedure, after which he awakens with a newfound ability to see and communicate with the hoards of ghosts who also happen to inhabit his tiny island. And though he has no interest in attracting attention from the undead, either, they eagerly demonstrate their desire to connect with him.

One ghost in particular is in urgent need of Pinkus’s help. Or perhaps he is simply the most persistent and cunning of the bunch (We’ve no doubt that this guy was one smooth-talking philanderer in his mortal life.) His widow is engaged to marry a very bad guy. She is sweet, and a bit clumsy, but very kind. She does not deserve a very bad guy. Another one. (Husband number one died while giving his realtor a tongue-lashing for nearly exposing his plans to buy an adulterous love-nest to house his mistress. “Amber.” He has little room to judge bachelor number two.)

I digress. This storyline makes way for the film’s best (female) character. Tea Leoni plays Gwen the widow. And despite the fact that we can’t think of a single reason why such a lovely, intelligent, and interesting person would ever have gotten involved with her former husband, we forgive her her sins and sit back to enjoy her spirited dance across the big screen.

Gwen is my favorite kind of character. She’s smart, a bit clumsy, always enthusiastic. She has a passion for her work that compels her to break of her engagement to her fiancée, a legal champion for human rights (who, as it turns out, is not such a bad guy after all. A bit arrogant. Surprise, surprise.) to fly off to Africa for an exploratory romp through ancient Egyptian tombs. Gwen is an enchanting combination of brains and beauty sprinkled with a refreshing dose of reality, thanks in large part to the actress playing the role. The lines on Leoni’s face show she’s done her fair share of laughing and crying throughout the years, but at least that face is still able to register some emotion. That’s a dying art in the Hollywood of the 21st century.

The possibility of romance between Gwen and Dr. Pinkus inevitably develops as the film proceeds. Pinkus is a miserable, lonely guy who simply doesn’t know it yet. And Gwen clearly has a thing for assholes. But their awkward encounters set the stage for many an awkward scene in which Gwen tries to find a glimmer of decency in her new companion and Pinkus fails miserably (and hilariously) to deliver.

The storyline is silly, and in typical formula-film fashion we see a transformation in Dr. Pinkus by the time the credits roll, and a sincere attempt to atone for past behavior. But we gratefully suspect the obnoxious guy is still in there somewhere.

Don’t let the yawn-worthy trailer stop you from enjoying “Ghost Town’s” hilarious flirt with the afterlife.

♦♦♦

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