MOVIE REVIEW- Gervais' awakening: 'Ghost' has more chance than that

a still from this week's film
Western Albemarle member of the class of '79 and movie star Billy Campbell plants one on bride-to-be Gwen (Téa Leoni), unaware that the ghost of Naked Guy (Jeff Hiller) is watching in Ghost Town. (Check out the interview with Campbell in last week's edition.)

One part of America knows Ricky Gervais from the British version of The Office and his other series, Extras. Now, the other America has a chance to get to know him in his first starring film, Ghost Town, which lets him show off his irritating and charming sides in a way that can be confusing. If he's an acquired taste, most viewers will acquire it by the time the movie's over.


The initial focus is on Greg Kinnear as Frank Herlihy, a smooth operator who's setting up his mistress in a Manhattan love nest when the realtor mistakenly tells his wife about it. Just when Frank wonders what else can go wrong, an accident takes his life.

We'll later find out a year has passed before we meet Dr. Bertram Pincus (Gervais), a dentist who seems distracted, if not downright antisocial. He's really a jerk with a decent guy buried inside, and Gervais reveals his niceness a bit too early because we have to like him.

Anyway, Dr. Pincus has a colonoscopy, but there's a problem with the anesthetic. The doctor tells him later he "died... a little bit"– for almost seven minutes, actually.

Strange things happen when he leaves the hospital. He sees dead people– their ghosts, actually. When they realize he can see them, they start following him. As you know from other movies, ghosts are here because they have unfinished business, and these ghosts all hope Dr. Pincus can finish their business for them.

"New York is lousy with ghosts," Frank tells him, promising to disperse the others if "Pink-ass," as he calls him, will break up the engagement of his widow, Gwen (Téa Leoni), to human rights attorney Richard (Charlottesville native Billy Campbell). Once he sees Gwen, Dr. Pincus proposes to use himself as bait to woo her away from the lawyer, unlikely as that would seem.

If you've bought the story thus far, no great leap of faith is required to go the rest of the way.  Gwen's an Egyptologist at the Museum of Natural History, and Pincus analyzes the dental work of a mummy she's about to unveil. (There are also more mummy penis jokes than you'll hear in the collected works of Brendan Fraser.) They're already neighbors, so it's not difficult for them to become friends, and Richard's such a decent guy– which could make him a tragic figure if the film chose to dwell on it– that he doesn't stop them from becoming more.

Ghost Town was directed and co-written by David Koepp, a much-in-demand (especially by Spielberg) screenwriter whose previous directorial efforts have been second-rate thrillers. He shows a certain flair for comedy, with Gervais being the perfect mouthpiece for lines like, "It's not the crowds, it's the individuals in the crowds I don't like." A few scenes go on too long, especially early on before you get used to Gervais' style. If he has a sixth sense, it's a sense of comic timing.

It's not a classic like Topper, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, or even Ghost, but Ghost Town is better than a lot of ghostly titles that finished their earthly business quickly and moved on to the afterlife.