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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Ghost Town (review)

Maybe Ricky Gervais is a funny guy, but you’d never know it from this charmless excuse for a supernatural romantic comedy, which doesn’t have the first clue how to take advantage of his dry, tangential, self-deprecating wit. As Manhattan dentist Bertram Pincus — the name alone is expected to do some comic heavy lifting, and doesn’t — Gervais (Stardust) is a bitter, remote man perfectly content to be left alone… if only the movie would get off his back. After a near-death experience during a hospital procedure, he can suddenly see all the ghosts haunting New York, and every single damn one of them wants him to communicate with their still-living loved ones about the unfinished business that’s keeping them chained to the corporeal plane. That actually makes the flick sound more mysterious and spooky than it is: instead of aiming for a sense of wonder, writer-director David Koepp (Secret Window) and his coscreenwriter John Kamps (The Borrowers) shoot for a whisper-light sitcom sensibility that results in a movie that is empty, bland, and forgettable, even with such talents as Gervais and the usually irresistibly effervescent Greg Kinnear (Baby Mama) and Téa Leoni (You Kill Me) onboard. Kinnear’s been dead for a while, see, and begs Gervais to stop his widow (Leoni) from remarrying someone he believes isn’t right for her. Except now Bertram falls for her, in what must surely be one of the most forced instances of romantic attraction Hollywood has foisted upon us in years. Did I say there was no wonder here? There’s even less chemistry among any of the principals, and certainly none between Gervais and Leoni. As if to make up for that, Koepp lingers on utterly pointless asides — such as Bertram’s argument with his doctor over his NDE — that may be passingly amusing in themselves but connect in no way whatsoever with anything else we’re being offered. It all makes the 102-minute running time feel twice as long, and ten times as excruciating.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
  • chris

    Worst review ever.

    Ghost Town is one of the most refreshing and genuine films of the year. And to say there was no chemistry between Gervais and Leoni — are you insane? It was there in spades.

    A really good, solid, feelgood comedy.

  • MaryAnn

    Wow, that’s the explanation! I’m insane!

  • JSW

    Do any actual human beings use the word “feelgood” unironically?

  • Truly the only part of the trailer that looked interesting was his disdain for everyone. I was figuring he would start helping the ghosts just to be left alone, and remain his amusingly disdainful self. That would have been much funnier.

  • MaryAnn

    Do any actual human beings use the word “feelgood” unironically?

    I love the smashing together of the two words.

    It’s doubleplus feelgood!

  • Nikopol

    Ladies and gentlemen of the United States, may I apologise on behalf of all Her Majesty’s subjects for inflicting Ricky Gervais on you. Yes, The Office was an often excruciating gem – but it’s become increasingly obvious since then that Mr. Gervais wasn’t just playing David Brent: he *IS* David Brent.

    In ‘Extras’ series 2 witness the horrible starfucking, or his excruciating standup shows (repackaged material to cash in on The Office), or his inexecrable fiasco at the Diana memorial concert and lo, the scales shall fall from your eyes to reveal that the Emperor is sans garb. Not for nothing is he known as ‘the salesman’: apart from constantly dropping the names of his celebrity friends, it seems all that ‘ironic’ bullying of “spazzies” “darkies” and “poofs” may be somewhat less than ironic after all. The horrid little one-trick narcissist’s disdain extends to everyone.

  • I respectfully disagree with nearly your entire review. While this film took the predictably safe route, it still works very well as a whisper-light sitcom. You imply that David Koepp and John Kamps made a mistake by not approaching this subject with a sense of wonder. The real mistake would be to star Ricky Gervais in the film you wished had been made. The last thing we need is a comedian discovering the ‘serious’ paranormal realm. It’s not without its flaws, but considering the box office alternatives at the moment, this film is far from deserving of your ‘skip it’ label.

  • MaryAnn

    I respectfully disagree: I think it *does* deserve to be skipped. Unless you like whisper-light sitcoms, I guess. I cannot conceive of a whisper-light sitcom that’s worth anyone’s time.

    Why do you equate a “sense of wonder” with “serious”?

  • Hey, maybe the world needs a ‘whisper-light’ sticom. Besides, who cares how light or heavy a particular work is as long as it achieves its goal and entertains in the process? According to the rest of the critical world (approx. 87% of it) this one does just that. I agree with them. I don’t think it’s a great movie by any means, but definitely worth a look when it comes out on DVD. Such is the beauty of a wholly subjective medium.

  • Sarah

    Mary Ann, I’m suprised at you…are you secretly…a curmudgeon?
    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this movie. I saw it tonight and loved it. I’m a huge Ricky Gervais fan and I thought the movie showed tons of Ricky Gervais’ self deprecating wit, plus showcased the fact that not only is he a great comic actor, but he’s a genuine serious actor as well. He managed the dry wit, of course, and actually amazed me by being able to carry the poignant scenes beautifully without it ever dipping into sentimentality or the maudlin.
    The storyline in the film never progressed to a “chemistry” phase between Tea Leoni and Gervais, I think that’s why it wasn’t “on show”. It was more of a budding friendship I think, with chemistry presumably developing post-film in off-camera-land. To me, the anti-romantic aspect was very refreshing.

  • MaryAnn

    Besides, who cares how light or heavy a particular work is as long as it achieves its goal and entertains in the process?

    Agreed. But this movie doesn’t achieve its goal, and it doesn’t entertain in the process… at least not for me. Your mileage may vary.

    I thought the movie showed tons of Ricky Gervais’ self deprecating wit

    I didn’t say it didn’t. I said it didn’t use it right. His brand of humor felt tacked on and completely at odds with the tone the rest of the movie appeared to be aiming for.

  • Maurice

    I dunno. I initially dismissed this one as vapid and unoriginal, but so many people seem to like it that I’ll probably wind up giving it a try.

    I wouldn’t have bothered to comment, but the “Newspeak” drew me out of hiding.

  • Mark

    Surprised by that review.

  • It’s doubleplus feelgood!
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    I can just see that phrase being used in a review of the new Nora Ephron movie Do It to Julia, being produced at this moment by Airstrip One Productions. And no doubt featuring more than a few product placement ads for Victory Gin…

    I cannot conceive of a whisper-light sitcom that’s worth anyone’s time.
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    Some of your favorite movies–Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Little Miss Sunshine, Sweet Home Alabama, My Big Fat Greek Wedding–qualify as whisper-light sitcoms in my eyes, MaryAnn.

    But, of course, your mileage may vary…

  • MaryAnn

    Sitcoms are all about plot. Those movies are at least as much about character as they are about plot, some even moreso (*Little Miss Sunshine*).

    *Sweet Home Alabama* and *My Big Fat Greek Wedding* are among my favorite movies? In what universe?

  • JayDee

    Oh what a disappointing review! So sad to see a film that is so well scripted and brings back the feeling of the lovely screwball comedies of the 50’s and 60’s be so inappropriately trashed. We need more films like this to balance against the films that can only tell a story with an overabundance of inappropriate language, nudity, sex and/or violence. There are certainly many great films that feature these aspects non-gratuitously and in appropriate context but so many others miss the boat totally. This is a refreshing comedy with a lovely story and excellent performances with superb comic timing. Why discourage people from seeing it?

  • *Sweet Home Alabama* and *My Big Fat Greek Wedding* are among my favorite movies? In what universe?
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    Well, you did give them good reviews. I guess I exaggerated a bit.

    Mea culpa.

    Mea maxima culpa.

    So sad to see a film that is so well scripted and brings back the feeling of the lovely screwball comedies of the 50’s and 60’s be so inappropriately trashed.
    –JayDee

    I watch old movies all the time and have a special fondness for screwball comedies–though mainly of the 30’s and 40’s–but this movie is not comparable to those kind of flicks.

    And it has an even worse script than Burn After Reading. (As you might guess, I didn’t quite care for Burn After Reading.)

    The message is nice, but unfortunately you have to wade through a lot of really bad dialogue to get there. And poor Tea Leoni had more chemistry with her dog than she did her leading man.

    And I never once found the conversations Rick Gervais had with his surgeon to be all that funny or convincing. (Of course, I’m old enough to know people who had gone through that particular procedure but even if I didn’t, I would not have found those scenes all that entertaining.)

    On the plus side, this film did give me new respect for As Good as It Gets, which also featured a snarky misanthrope being redeemed by the love of a good woman. And no, I don’t think casting Jack Nicholson in Gervais’s place would have made a difference.

  • Jurgan

    “Why discourage people from seeing it?”

    Um… maybe, just guessing, because she didn’t like it? Just a stab in the dark there. I always wonder why people think a critic is somehow being needlessly cruel or unfair simply by saying “I didn’t like this movie.”

  • Drew Ryce

    Reminded me of “As Good as it Gets” done as a lightweight TV comedy.

    Wouldn’t it have worked better if Gervais had been the ghost?

  • Mimi

    I had been looking forward to this movie, and then MAJ’s review was so negative that I almost didn’t see it. But I did, and I loved it. I laughed, I cried (I won’t comment on its merits relative to “Cats”). I guess the moral is: trust, but verify. (See, there WAS a point to my watching that presidential debate…)

  • chris

    I think there was chemistry between Leoni and Gervais. The scene with his shirt tag still attached, though cliche, was sweet. Or the scene where Leoni, her beau and Gervais are sitting around, while the latter cracks jokes and subsequently begins a gagging fit, was quite funny. Leoni’s laugh always seems genuine, so her amusement with Gervais’ character did not seem forced.

    This movie would have perhaps been more convincing if Leoni and Gervais’ relationship evolved into a friendship…each one helping the other grow, thus, allowing for more dry wit and less sappy romantics.

    This movie definitely fell short of reaching its potential. The possibility was there. I certainly felt for Leoni’s character, her heartbreak and betrayal. Seeing her find a positive companion was comforting. However: I wanted to see more from the Kinear/Leoni dynamic and had a hard time believing the complete romantic connection between the two leads.

    It was good for a chuckle and was certainly lighter than other movies out right now. I would still encourage people to see it.

  • MaryAnn

    the lovely screwball comedies of the 50’s and 60’s

    In what universe were there screwball comedies in the 50s and 60s?

  • AJ

    Is this suitable for a 7 year old to see? Heard there was some ‘language’?

  • MaryAnn

    It depends on the seven-year-old, and what you consider “language” that seven-year-old should not hear.

    I think most seven-year-olds would be bored stiff by this.

  • tony ling

    Saw this on the plane over from London last night- glad I didn’t have to pay for it. I think MAJ was right on the money in her assessment. You might get more mileage, but i would check your odometer if that were the case.

    There are so many problems with this film it’s hard to know where to begin. But i am surprised that no one invloved in its making realised the non-starter that it is: the Gervais personna only works, and is funny(if you appreciate his brand of dry humour), when he remains the curmudgeon. Turning him into a likable romantic lead is like trying to make Mr Bean a super hero – doomed from the start. The sappy, maudlin Hollywood standard issued plot doesnt help, of course. I would however, recommend the first five minutes, the death scene of the Kinnear character was the funniest thing in the entire film, after which it goes steadily down hill.

  • Lenny Hecht

    I loved this movie

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