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:: Ghost Town

Ricky Gervais as the lead in a romantic comedy? Right, and is that a pig up there in the sky? It might sound absurd, but this unlikely prospect is brought to life in Ghost Town, a “rom-com” in which Gervais stars alongside Téa Leoni and Greg Kinnear.

Now I’ll be frank – I am not a huge fan of romantic comedies. In fact, having to sit through one usually makes me feel as if I’m undergoing a lobotomy, with each love-cliché or each banal attempt at humour drilling another hole into my brain. Yet something strange happened during Ghost Town – I actually laughed. A few times. This was not because the film defied any genre trends – far from it – but because Ricky Gervais’ performance made the experience bearable.

Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a dentist with an acerbic tongue and complete contempt for the world. During a “routine” colonoscopy, he dies for seven minutes and somehow awakens from this with the ability to see ghosts. Pincus struggles with his new reality which involves droves of dead people hounding him to pass on messages to their living loved ones. He agrees to help one particularly persistent ghost, Frank (Greg Kinnear), who assures Pincus that if he successfully aids him, the ghosts will no longer plague him. Pincus must break up the relationship between Frank’s widow Gwen (Téa Leoni) and her fiancé Richard (Billy Campbell). You can guess how Pincus goes about achieving this mission.

Yes, you have seen this storyline before in countless other films. There is no denying that the script is conventional, the plot predictable, and the performances from Leoni and Kinnear unremarkable, but there are refreshing pockets of originality scattered throughout the film. One such example is Betram and Gwen’s first date which takes place over a corpse, rather than over dinner.

Unfortunately, the lack of natural chemistry between Leoni and Gervais makes the prospect of these two actually becoming lovers quite difficult to believe at first. Thankfully, as the film progresses, this becomes slightly more convincing as Pincus woos Gwen using some classic Gervais charm.

It is obvious that the film was not originally scripted with Gervais in mind; however, director/writer David Koepp has clearly made allowances for the Gervais style of comedy which we have become accustomed to in The Office and Extras. Let’s face it, Gervais can only play one character – a brilliantly funny character – but only one character nonetheless. In fact, there are times during the film that Gervais is so in-character that you’d be forgiven for thinking that David Brent has been transported directly from Slough and plonked in the middle of Manhattan. Gervais never really meshes with the storyline, the other characters or the setting; you are acutely aware that this is Ricky Gervais in a Hollywood romantic comedy, and yet – he still manages to be funny. Gervais’ natural knack for comedy means that he can still be laugh-out-loud funny in spite of a bland script.

Ghost Town is, for the most part, enjoyable. There are no surprises but if you’re looking for some light, mindless entertainment, it’s perfect. If you’re a fan of Ricky Gervais, it is worth a watch – just don’t expect the sparkling wit that typifies his own work to be present in Ghost Town.