DreamWorks // 2008 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 12th, 2009
He sees dead people...and they annoy him.
If you missed this nifty little romantic comedy's turnstile theatrical run, do yourself a favor and score the Blu-ray.
Ricky Gervais (Extras) stars as Betram Pincus, a New York City dentist who prefers his patients to have their mouths stuffed with cotton. He's a misanthrope, oblivious to the plights of others. Even if he did notice their plights, he wouldn't care. But after a botched surgery leaves him dead (briefly), he gains a new ability: he's able to see ghosts, and they refuse to leave him alone.
One ghost in particular (Greg Kinnear) refuses to leave him alone until he agrees to participate in an elaborate scheme to free his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni) from the clutches of a douche bag.
Ignore its blink-and-you-missed-it theatrical run: Ghost Town is a charming, genuinely funny romantic comedy. Sure it's gimmick-driven, but the top-shelf cast and a sharp script from David Koepp and John Kamps elevate the offering beyond its niche status.
You have to start with Ricky Gervais, a comedy man-god who brings his hapless shtick and perfect timing A-game. He's likely not the mainstream force he should be to the American audience -- save for the fact most folks will recognize his name from the opening credits of The Office -- which could probably account for the film's underexposure. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with the guy's work. If you'd like to bypass the crushing social awkwardness his characters endure in The Office and Extras, this film is the way to go. His Bertram Pincus is a prime a-hole and the misanthropic angst he hurls at passersby is the source of much of the comedy. Kinnear's introduction as the outgoing, slightly sleazy alpha male ghost sets up a satisfying juxtaposition with Bertram's asshattery and their interaction adds another layer to the comedy. The final piece of the puzzle is Tea Leoni who has cut her chops on "dramedies" and she's a fine addition for the trifecta.
Lots of funny moments here: Bertram's reaction to a mummy's genitals, Gwen's dog-bathing incident and every scene Kristen Wiig is in. For those of you tuning in for the relationship stuff, the romance angle is subtle, yet emotionally rewarding. The payoff scene is underplayed and beautifully done. Gervais might seem like an odd match-up for a beauty like Leoni, but they make it work.
As for the ghost stuff, it's surprisingly not as prevalent as you might expect. Yes it's the driving plot device and the ghosts' interaction are key to -- Not Surprising Slight Spoiler Alert -- Bertram's evolution into a nice human being, but the central thrust of the film is the grounded interplay between Bertram and Gwen.
The Dreamworks Blu-ray is solid. The autumn-in-New-York setting is perfectly suited to the strength of the enhanced visuals. The details are sharp, particularly during the handful of scenes set in Central Park; the foliage pops in high-def. Most of the action is of the more intimate variety with characters simply talking to each other and, yes, Ricky Gervais has never looked paler than in glorious 1080p. From start to finish, a strong visual presentation. The audio mix is primarily there to deliver dialogue and the occasional supportive soundtrack cut, but the Dolby True HD 5.1 sound is clean. Extras: a very funny commentary with Gervais and Koepp, two short, but decent featurettes on the making-of and the visual effects and a Gervais-dominated gag reel.
Track down this gem of a comedy. The Blu-ray is done well enough to earn a recommendation.
Not guilty. Something something ghost pun.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Gag Reel