After briefly dying during an operation, misanthrope dentist Bertram Pincus (Gervais) finds he can see and hear the dead. They make his life hell, but the late Frank Herlihy (Kinnear) promises to keep the rest away if Pincus helps his widow (Leoni).
According to Ghost Town, the spirits of the dead linger on Earth until any unfinished business they have is accomplished. One rather wishes that Hollywood could learn from that example and help release tired, phantasmal plots like this back into the ether from whence they came. It’s not that Ghost Town doesn’t have talented people behind it; more that they’re doing their best to make themselves indistinguishable from any of the afterlife movies that already haunt us.
The film’s singular focus is Ricky Gervais’ Dr. Pincus, a dentist with enough social hang-ups to accommodate Jackie Kennedy’s entire wardrobe. He doesn’t like people, and to ensure that they stay away he acts like an utter prick to everyone he encounters. When he starts to see dead people and gets hassled by them too — they are, naturally, excited to have a conduit back to the world of the living — he’s driven to the brink, but cuts a deal with one ghost, Frank (Greg Kinnear), to keep the rest at bay. In return, Pincus must ensure Frank’s widow (Téa Leoni) breaks her engagement to the “real scumbag” she’s dating.
So far, so so. It looks great, and the casting’s fine — Gervais brings considerable pathos out in Pincus as we get to know him, even if his social ineptitude briefly disappears halfway through and he turns into Ricky Gervais, comic, while Leoni is appealing in the straight role. And there’s an embarrassment of riches in a supporting cast chock-full of recognisable faces: Alan Ruck and Bill Campbell are both fleeting presences, while Kristen Wiig does the same slightly vague schtick she nailed so well in Knocked Up. Even the script is decent, until it descends further into the mire of cliché as plot threads are gathered towards the end. So Pincus becomes more considerate, and Leoni finds peace, and the dead pass on to heaven (or wherever; it’s a little vague) just like in The Sixth Sense, Ghost, and any number of wannabes.
The problem is that, while there’s nothing very wrong with Ghost Town, there’s nothing very right with it either. Koepp’s previous films as director include the off-beat Stir Of Echoes; would that he’d employed just a little more of that flair here.
If you like Gervais usual schtick, you might be prepared to overlook the hackneyed plot for the jokes and strong cast.