This undead whimsy has a lot going for it, namely British Emmy-winning Ricky Gervais's first leading role. His knack for comedy and sloth after starting out in a band two decades ago is really starting to pay dividends for him.
Starring a well-scrubbed Gervais, Téa Leoni, and Greg Kinnear, Ghost Town recalls pictures like Heaven Can Wait, Topper, and even Ghost near the finish. Still, it feels like an original, bright creation with helmer David Koepp allows for much wit and humanity to flow in Manhattan which is held in much adoration.
The opening has Kinnear's philandering Frank, duked up in a tuxedo, wiped out by the transit authority bus, after narrowly avoiding a plummeting air conditioner. Instantly, he's in apparition form still with his same clothes on and trying to get his Blackberry working after someone mutters, "he isn't happy."
Gervais's self-consumed Bertram Pincus, a dentist who wants nothing to do with people, as his profession allows, happens to live in the same building as Frank's widow Gwen (Leoni), and has hardly noticed her.
Koepp has collaborated deftly with scribe pal John Kamps to make this comic fantasy a moral journey for the misanthropic Bertram (whose last name is made to rhyme with gas on a couple of occasions).
It seems that there are a sizable amount of the supernatural around the meticulously mundane Pincus after he dies unexpectedly during a colonoscopy procedure (he wanted general anesthesia) for seven minutes, including Frank. A simple sneeze appears to put one like Bertram in contact with those who know he can see them.
The story cheekily moves its way on Bertram's maneuvering around these spiritual pests as the unhappy guy starts to fall for Gwen, an Egyptologist, preparing for her latest exhibit. It seems that the curmudgeon's dental expertise helps in this matter, leading to some funny scenes, especially in Gwen's colorful flat. Frank hangs around Pincus in order to get Gwen to break her engagement to a serious-minded human rights attorney, played by Billy Campbell.
Eventually, Ghost Town finds its way into Frank Capra territory, in a nice blend of humor and pathos, as Gwen reveals what she knows about her late husband to Bertram. This annoying ability to interact with ghosts will predictably have effect on a cynical fellow's people skills with highly pleasing results. It's nice to see a film not rely on special effects which seems to fit appropriately, and not that often, into the action.
The awkwardness arising from the proximity of Pincus, Gwen, and Frank has narrative pull, and more of the oncoming emotional, vulnerable instances is often lightened by Gervais's touch, often of a deadpan nature. Leoni, who has excelled in low-budget pictures like You Kill Me ranges nicely opposite Gervais as a genuine character develops from early apathy and laughter around Pincus.
Koepp navigates through much emotion, including love, loss, and jealousy with much sensitivity that makes the humor come off for the better. A glow for all seasons, especially autumn, is brought to upper Manhattan, not dampered by the multitude of dead people. The soundtrack of folksy tunes don't intrude like music videos on the sinusoidal nature of the story. It often exude the same feeling as Enchanted with fine use of locations like Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Adequate support comes from Aasif Mandvi as Bertram's social-friendly colleague, as well as from (those beyond the grave) like Dana Ivey as Marjorie and longtime character actor, Alan Ruck. Kristen Wiig (of SNL fame) is delightful early on as the artificially-tanned surgeon who comments on her profession's malfeasance, "we have a very strict three-strikes policy."
The story is as comfortable a fit as Gervais's white shirt as Ghost Town is sometimes hilarious (whether prior to that colonoscopy or talk about preservation) and touching. This sophisticated otherworldly fun nicely tweaks on the notion of so many having "unfinished business".