Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lift Your Spirits with Ghost Town

It's one of those films that I overlooked but am glad I found. Starring Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, and Greg Kinnear, this review will attempt to avoid any serious spoilers.

For some reason I had not heard much about Ghost Town when it was released, and instead of sticking with the same old favorites I thought I’d give this one a chance. I’ve liked Greg Kinnear in the films I’ve seen him in (As Good As It Gets, Little Miss Sunshine) and Tea Leoni (Family Man, Fun With Dick & Jane) is always good. So it was only a matter of the film’s premise. Gervais has been a BBC television star involved with The Office and his own The Ricky Gervais Show, but till now I would not have been able to pick him out of a lineup.

To my great surprise this one is indeed surprisingly good. The premise is easy to accept because so many films have already explored light-hearted flavors of the ghost/hereafter premise including Abbott and Costello (The Time of Their Lives). The point of the film is in what happens next.

The artwork on the jacket cover tells the story. Dr. Pincus (Gervais in his role as a dentist) is sitting on a New York City park bench with his fingertips pressed against his foreheard. To his right is Tea Leoni with a smile and her arm behind Dr. Pincus. On his other side is semi-transparent Greg Kinnear with his fading arm reaching behind Pincus toward Leoni. The first minutes of the film set it all up.

As opening credits roll, Kinnear in suit and bow tie is approaching an apartment building. A couple several stories up is trying to install an air conditioner. There is an oops and the thirty pound box falls earthward toward the sidewalk. At the last second, Kinnear looks up, steps backwards and with relief enjoys the rush of having survived a close one. Unfortunately, a mid-town bus takes him out.

The light touch manner in which all this is handled gives viewers a tip that this ghost story is going to be more fun than macabre.

Dr. Pincus is a dentist who pretty much dislikes people and for whatever reason doesn't interact with them well. During a routine colonoscopy he dies and is revived. (Again, there is nothing graphic here, just as there was no blood when Kinnear got nailed by the bus.) There is a side effect from this near death experience. Pincus is now able to see ghosts, and there are a lot of them to see in New York.

The film's underlying premise is that ghosts are disembodied souls who have unfinished business here on earth. So each one is on a quest to make right something that had been left unresolved when they departed.

More than one reviewer of this film gives credit to Ricky Gervais for making it work. Here's one person's take:
By the far the greatest thing about Ghost Town however lies in its comedy, which is fronted by lead man Ricky Gervais, who teams up alongside Greg Kinnear to create a movie with both class and wit, not to mention a little bit of welcome shtick. Gervais, who goes about his role here with about the same mentality as he has so far implemented in his TV roles, delivers a wonderful performance here that embodies his character's comedic cynicism with absolute precision. If you already know the comedian then you know that much of his charm and natural comic ability comes from his timing and delivery; he doesn't necessarily try to make you laugh, and it isn't in the things he says, but how he says them, and when he does so. Through this Gervais makes sure not only to deliver his jokes with enough frequency to keep amusement levels high, but he crafts a character out of such moments too; the jokes never cheapen his persona, but only strengthen it.

I even got a bit mushy at the end, as there's more to the film than just a two hour diversion. But I already promised not to spoil it for you. Good take away message and lots of smiles throughout. If you get a chance, visit Ghost Town.

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