Rating: 3 stars
It’s Sixth Sense, the comedy! In Ghost Town, Ricky Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a misanthropic dentist who dies for 7 minutes during a routine medical procedure (okay, a colonoscopy) and, when he awakens, can see dead people. Poor Pincus has a hard enough time with the living—now he has to contend with the dead. To make matters worse, all these dead loiterers want something from him—you see, they have unresolved issues on earth; that’s why they’re still hanging around. Most persistent of all is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who wants Pincus to help break off the engagement of his widow (Tea Leoni) to the boringly perfect Richard (Billy Campbell).
This is all pretty high-concept, potentially-cutesy stuff, but it is leavened by great performances and some sharp writing. Pincus’s pointed barbs—“Come back soon!” a nurse coos at him. “What a terrible thing to say in a hospital,” he snaps back—can be funny and satisfying, in that nasty, Curb Your Enthusiasm sort of way. But Gervais makes the character just pathetic enough to be likeable. As for Kinnear, it’s nice to see him relaxing into a rakish, Cary Grant-style role. (He plays a frumpy everyman in Flash of Genius, which I’ll be reviewing next week.) And Kristen Wiig, so funny on Saturday Night Live, shines in a small role as the tanaholic doctor who tries to cover her slip up by brightly offering, “Everyone dies!” “Yes, but usually at the end of their lives!” Bertram sputters back.
Funny all the way through, Ghost Town will actually give you quite a lump in your throat by its end. What’s more, it has the perfect last two lines for any film involving a dentist. Seriously, so perfect you may wonder if they wrote the last two lines first and then built the whole film around them. Okay, probably not, but they're that good.