Ghost Town is diverting enough, but it's also the kind of high-concept studio concoction Ricky Gervais might have ridiculed in his great backstage-showbiz sitcom Extras. The British comic plays Bertram Pincus, a misanthropic dentist in New York City who develops an ability to see dead people; to be specific, the dead are noodgy, solid-looking ghosts of the type that populated the Cary Grant movie Topper. Each has unfinished business with the living for which they want Pincus to act as intermediary and none is noodgier than a slick businessman (Greg Kinnear) who was cheating on his wife (Téa Leoni) when he bit the dust. Now the remorseful dead cad wants the living dentist to stop the good widow's impending second marriage to an unsuitably dull fellow (Billy Campbell).
Gervais, who created (with Stephen Merchant) the inimitable original BBC version of The Office and starred, unforgettably, as incompetent boss David Brent, specializes in the hilarity of human discomfort; he's a performer who works best when supported by characters as sharp and fully drawn as he is. Here, though, director David Koepp (the A-list screenwriter of Spider-Man, working from his own script) handles Gervais with nervous delicacy, as if the star is an odd import whose striking, foreign comedic persona needs to be cushioned by squishier, more familiar American displays of mildness. (Kinnear and Leoni, too, are muted.)
Maybe now Gervais can do his own sitcom about a unique British comedian who comes to conquer Hollywood, only to find himself cast in a generic 1930s-type happy-ending romp about dentists and noodgy ghosts. B-
More with Ricky Gervais:
Dave Karger talks comedy with Ricky Gervais at the Toronto Film Festival