Having unintentionally birthed a derisive new shorthand (“nuked the fridge”) last 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 as a director, a comedically-inflected minor 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 considerable skill with cud-chewing asides, and blissfully playing up his character’s inhospitality and smarmy self-regard, Gervais helps give 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 with an affinity for tanning cream, no matter the fact that “it smells like dirt,” as she absentmindedly notes. 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 sale-through, bundled-DVD companion of fellow apparitional rom-com piffle like
2005’s Just Like Heaven. Nothing truly gels, and gathers any downhill momentum. 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 human drama more than the
thrills. His first foray into more whimsical comedy, co-written with
John Kamps, unfortunately doesn’t leave one wanting for more in this vein.
Housed in a regular Amray plastic case, Ghost Town comes presented in 1.85: anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and Dolby digital 2.0 stereo tracks in Spanish and French. A feature-length audio commentary track with Koepp and the quip-happy Gervais is a lively affair, full of plenty of quick-witted asides and amusing anecdotes. Next up is a 23-minute making-of featurette which showcases Koepp’s insights about the creative process, and how he saw the film take shape; somewhat interestingly, he says that Leoni is basically playing Cary Grant’s character from Bringing Up Baby. Billy Campbell, meanwhile, confesses his secret for not cracking up during takes with Gervais: “I clinched my butt cheeks,” he says. A two-minute montage clip with no sound shows how a few special effects sequences were composited from separate frames, while a six-and-a-half-minute blooper reel is heavy on flubbed lines and other genial screw-ups from Gervais. There are some olive-related shenanigans during a restaurant scene, and Gervais cracks up Leoni when he gazes up the remains of a mummy (in the above photo) and talks about “sniffing his knob.” Finishing off the edited-together sequence, Gervais opines, “This is why I don’t do plays — they wouldn’t get out of the theater until 12:45!” Previews for American Teen, Eagle Eye and The Duchess round things out. C (Movie) B- (Disc)