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  Ghost Town Gervais sees dead people
Year: 2008
Director: David Koepp
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Téa Leoni, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Ruck, Billy Campbell, Kristen Wiig
Genre: Comedy, Drama, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: After his heart momentarily stops beating during a routine operation, curmudgeonly dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) awakens with the ability to see ghosts. Excited that someone finally notices them, the ghosts start pursuing Pincus everywhere, begging him to sort out their unfinished business. Which proves a problem, since Pincus can’t stand being around living people, let alone dead ones. His biggest headache is tuxedoed spectre Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who promises to keep the other ghosts away if Pincus manages to dissuade his wife Gwen (Téa Leoni) from marrying boyfriend Richard (Billy Campbell). However, Pincus begins falling for Gwen and along the way, he and Frank learn some unpalatable truths about themselves.

With a premise that seems almost the comedy version of co-writer/director David Koepp’s underrated A Stir of Echoes (1999), this tries to offer a fresh take on the whole “I see dead people angle.” Which is no easy thing to do, given that Hearts and Souls (1993), The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Eye (2002) pretty much exhausted its possibilities, and TV’s Ghost Whisperer uses the same plot every week. The twist here is that Pincus is an acerbic misanthrope who goes out of his way to avoid contact with others. So for the bulk of the movie that’s just what we watch him do, while scenes drag from one tedious non-incident to another.

As a screenwriter on everything from Mission: Impossible (1996) to Spider-Man (2002), Koepp is good at shaping plots with clockwork precision. Here, he mistakenly tailors the whole movie around Ricky Gervais’ stand-up persona, which will no doubt please his many fans but proves a real chore for those weary of his “I say the things people are really thinking” schtick. His trademark passive-aggressive misanthropy cloaked in social commentary renders human rights lawyer Frank an over-earnest stooge and has Gwen guffawing over his anti-Chinese rant (“Not being rude, but they’re just different, aren’t they?”), but genuine laughs are few and far between.

Gervais is actually better at the whole soul-searching dramatic part where most comedians falter, but his relationship with Gwen does not blossom in a convincing way. We have no sense of what she finds attractive in Pincus and, given that he spends the bulk of his time inadvertently insulting her, a terse friendship seems more likely than a romance. What does prove interesting is that, whereas an ordinary film would have Frank help Pincus woo his wife, here his advice proves completely useless. He never valued his wife nor truly understood her at all, which renders him somewhat superfluous but leads to an interesting twist on the genre. It isn’t the ghosts who have unfinished business, but the living who cling to the dead.

Just when we’ve been drumming our fingers, the film rouses from its stupor. Pincus finally acknowledges his destiny and, following a nice scene with Aasif Mandvi as his amiable work colleague, starts setting the ghosts’ affairs to right. The film’s core message, as embodied in a quote from Albert Einstein: “Only a life lived for others is worth living”, is genuinely moving and leads to a nicely understated finale. It’s just a pity this wastes a heck of a lot of time getting there.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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David Koepp  (1964 - )

American writer and director who has penned scripts for numerous big budget genre movies, including Jurassic Park and its sequel, Carlito's Way, Panic Room, Spider-Man, plus Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. As a director, Koepp has made a pair of horror thrillers, Stir of Echoes and the Stephen King adaptation Secret Window, the fantasy comedy Ghost Town, high octane cycling thriller Premium Rush and the megaflop Johnny Depp comedy Mortdecai.

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