Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ghost Town (2008)

If you watched the last episode of The Office, where David Brent desperately wants to impress what turns out to be a promising blind date or were touched when Andy expressed gentleness towards Maggie in Extras, then perhaps you've longed to see Ricky Gervais as a romantic lead. Well, Ghost Town grants your wish.

Here, Gervais plays an anti-social dentist (Bertram Pincus) who briefly dies during a colonoscopy and, thereafter, finds he is able to talk to the dead. Since he's not enamored of the living, he abhors his new extra-sensory gift and runs from the ghosts who stalk him for assistance. One sharp and aggressive apparition, Frank, played by Greg Kinnear, threatens rather than pleads with Pincus to do his bidding.

Frank wants Pincus to ruin his wife's pending engagement, to a humorless philanthropist. Pincus begrudgingly undertakes the assignment and soon falls for Kinnear's wife Gwen (Tea Leoni) himself.

The first half of the movie is laden with strange and cynical wit, which Gervais handles with deft style and timing. He's especially good in a scene with the doctor who performed his colonoscopy, who is trying to avoid revealing that Pincus actually died during the procedure. No one exhibits charmless ego better than Gervais and he does so with an intelligence that justifies his condescending air. There is no actual reason to suffer fools gladly and when Pincus does not, he scores one for all of us who are too self-important to be bothered by mere mortals.

As Gwen and Pincus get to know one another, the dry wit and geek minded interests (paleontological gum disease) they share are refreshing. Gwen is a compassionate and attractive brainiac. If you want to know the way to her heart, think resin, not roses. Resin being the black goo used to preserve mummies! Pincus' nerdiness engages her intellect, An attraction based on common peccadilloes rather than passion is very realistic, yet not regularly explored in films.

Pincus and Gwen are most enjoyable when interracting on this offbeat level. Once things get mushy and both Pincus and Frank, plagued by conscious, begin rhapsodizing about their love for Gwen and how she deserves more than they can offer, the movie becomes trite and quite traditional.

To be fair, Gwen and Pincus don't exactly fall into each other's arms, but they might as well. Like Scrooge, Pincus decides to right the error of his ways and help the needy -- or dead, as the case may be and, when he has become "worthy" of her love, boy gets girl. Natch.

I think Gervais was well-used during the first part of the film. It played to his skills. However, the finale was a bit of let down, if for no other reason than that one senses that Ricky could have written it better, given half the quill. Gervais (and Merchant) fans who watched Tim Canterbury and Dawn Tinsley come together know just how satisfying a sharply-turned romance can be and can't help but think that Gwen and Pincus' fell short, in the end.