Having already nuked the fridge earlier this summer with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, high-profile screenwriter David Koepp jumps behind the camera for his fourth feature film, a comedically-inflected misfire about a socially maladjusted dentist, Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais), who briefly dies, comes back to life, and finds himself able to see and talk to dead people. Soon Bertram, much to his annoyance, is being pestered for favors by all sorts of Earthbound ghosts, including a philandering husband, Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), looking to break up the impending marriage of his wife, Gwen (Téa Leoni).
Exercising his skill with cud-chewing asides, and blissfully playing up his character’s inhospitality and smarmy self-regard, Gervais gives Ghost Town a bit of a kick in the pants. And the movie is, on a certain level, sweet enough, really — it elicits a few smiles and nods of identification here and there. Saturday Night Live‘s Kristen Wiig pops up in a couple amusing scenes, as a doctor. And, yeah, dental practice colleague Aasif Mandvi gets to give Gervais the slow burn, after putting up with his shit for years.
But mostly Ghost Town feels full of safe choices and conventional moves, rendering it a future bundled-DVD companion of fellow apparitional rom-com piffle like 2005’s Just Like Heaven. A potent comedic force in her own right, Leoni is forced to mainly stand around, look beautiful and play variations on sputtering uncertainty, which she capably pulls off, scene to scene. Watching her romantically warm to Gervais and vice versa, however, elicits indifference at best, disbelief at worst. Koepp’s previous directorial efforts have all been small-budgeted dramatic thrillers, with an emphasis on the drama more than the thrills. His first foray into more whimsical comedy, co-written with John Kamps, doesn’t leave one wanting for more in this vein. (Paramount, PG-13, 103 minutes)