Remember “Ghost,” with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore as an oh-so-cute couple, and Whoopi Goldberg as the accidental psychic who reunites them after Swayze’s demise? “Ghost Town” is pretty much the same movie, but refracted backwards and played for laughs instead of tears. Ricky Gervais is a misanthropic dentist who dies for a few minutes during a colonoscopy (“I died?” he asks the doctor. “Little bit,” she replies.) and wakes up able to see ghosts. Needy ghosts, in fact, who all need a favor. Gervais is not the kind of guy who grants favors, even to his close relatives (he has no friends; come to think of it, he has no relatives) and so this is a problem. Greg Kinnear, one of the dead guys, makes a deal with him; grant him one favor – break up his widow and her new squeeze — and he’ll make the rest of the ghosts go away.
The widow is Tea Leoni, who lives in Gervais’ building (in fact, he stole her taxi just last week) and has a thing about mummies — she studies them for a living. Her squeeze is a crusading human rights lawyer, who finds time for her between defending prisoners of conscience from Kim Jong-Ils. He’s a great guy, but he doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Saving the world can do that to you, after a while. Long story short, Gervais makes her laugh, then falls in love with her, then tries to explain the whole ghost thing…. but I wouldn’t want to give the whole movie away.
The plot is pretty standard Romantic Comedy stuff. What makes “Ghost Town” stand out is the performances. Starting with Gervais, naturally, who I’ve already raved about, but including Kinnear – the guy can play romcom second fiddle like none other – and Leoni, whose husky voice belies her blonde bombshell looks and gives her an sort of off-kilteredness that explains why she’s playing romantic comedy and not straight romance. And Kristen Wiig turns in the bit performance of the year as Gervais’ doctor. Somebody give that casting director an award.
The comedy scene these days is dominated by actors playing like idiots and overgrown children. Guys like Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen make us laugh by farting, bickering, and running around in their underwear. Actually, come to think of it, this is the kind of movie comedian this country tends to produce, and so it should come with no surprise that we have to gaze longingly across the ocean and hope for something new. A couple of years ago, Sasha Baron Coen was that breath of fresh air (though he certainly did his share of running around in his underwear.) This year, it’s Ricky Gervais. His brand of humor- which is very verval, made up mostly of putting his foot in his mouth with half-finished sentences, followed by explanations that only make it worse– relies on the audience to assume he’s intelligent, if not exactly nice or well-spoken. Or smooth. It’s more John Cleese or Chevy Chase than Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler. And it’s so, so funny.
Gervais originated the hit TV show “The Office” in Britain, and, while I think Steve Carrell is a funny man, for my money, Gervais’ version of the boss wins hands down. It’s all in the small gesture; the humor’s completely dependent upon an impeccable sense of timing. Gervais brings that timing to “Ghost Town,” and the result is one of the funniest, most refreshing, most straight up enjoyable comedies of the year.
- if you’re tired of dumb comedians, or comedians who play dumb.
- if you like “The Office” (either the British or the American version.)
- if you hate accents.
- if you didn’t like “Ghost.”