Directed by David Koepp
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 102 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: December 28, 2008
Review Date: December 12, 2008
A combination of the screwball comedy classic Topper and TV’s dramatic Ghost Whisperer, David Koepp’s Ghost Town has minor pleasures to offer. The premise is delightfully droll, and the execution is professional enough, but the comedy simply isn’t consistently sustained throughout the movie, and some of the performances aren’t up to par. The whimsy just isn’t contagious making for a film that seems less than a sum of its parts.
Misanthropic Manhattan dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) finds that after an operation in which he died for seven minutes, he now has the ability to see and hear ghosts. Spirits all over New York are haunting him begging his help in righting circumstances with their loved ones who for one reason or another have not been at peace about the deaths of their beloveds. The most persistent ghost is the formerly philandering Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) whose anthropologist wife Gwen (Tea Leoni) is now embarking on a new relationship with an attorney (Billy Campbell) who Frank knows is wrong for her. Entreating Pincus to intercede with Gwen to save her from another unhappiness, Frank is surprised when the lovelorn dentist begins to have his own feelings for Gwen, something the ghost simply can’t allow to happen.
The screenplay by director Koepp and John Kamps misses many opportunities for slapstick comic business with one of show business’ drollest comedians, Ricky Gervais, instead allowing him to play his usual sad sack nihilist tromping through a predictable story toward personal enlightenment. There are some funny, precious moments in the film‘s first half: an amusing improvised visit with his surgeon (an excellent Kristen Wiig) as she tries to sidestep his questions, the sparing use of special effects involving the ghosts and the effect they have on people who unknowingly encounter them, the dentist’s assorted ways of avoiding interpersonal contact with his patients. But when the enlightenment finally comes, we don’t really get to share in it to the extent that would make the payoffs really land. Director Koepp keeps the audience at arm’s length offering only crumbs of sentimental reconciliation with his truth blunting the film’s potential impact.
Ricky Gervais is one of the slyest, driest comedians in the business, and his wry way with lines as he copes with life’s little roadblocks and setbacks have made him a TV favorite with award-winning work in The Office and Extras, his two British television milestones. As a leading man in a romantic film comedy, however, he seems a bit miscast here, his verbal dexterity at odds with his shlubby appearance and a lack of chemistry with his female co-star. Part of that problem, however, is Tea Leoni’s casting as his romantic vis-à-vis. She has mildly effective dramatic ability, but her comedy timing is off, and the romantic coupling is never remotely believable. Greg Kinnear can do romantic comedy in his sleep, but, of course, as a ghost, he’s hampered by the inability to act with anyone but Gervais. That said, their pairing is the best, most ingratiating in the movie. Billy Campbell gets very few chances to shine as the sincere attorney, but Dana Ivey, another ghost whose eternal rest is thwarted by unfinished business on Earth, does get a couple of good scenes.
Ghost Town begins well and contains some good ideas. It’s also beautifully filmed on location in New York which hasn’t looked this good since Woody Allen began his series of valentines to the city. But the eventual execution of its premise isn’t exploited for all it could have offered making the movie just a bit less than fully satisfying.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 transfer contains outstanding flesh tones but is only slightly above average in sharpness. Black levels aren’t as deep as they should have been either though shadow detail is quite good. It’s a clean transfer with only the tiniest bit of line twitter on some wrought iron fencing. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is another almost completely front directed sound mix only offering the most minimal of ambient sounds in the rear channels. Dialogue comes through loudly and clearly in the front channel, but your surround system won’t be taxed at all by this routine audio track.
The audio commentary features writer-director David Koepp and star Ricky Gervais in an amiable dialog between two good friends enjoying watching the movie together. They occasionally remember to talk about individual scenes or actors they’re watching, but often go off on tangents talking about Laurel and Hardy or their individual experiences in the film business.
All of the bonus featurettes are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Making Ghost Town” is a 22 ½-minute documentary which gives background on the writing of the script, the casting of the movie, the actors’ individual belief or disbelief in ghosts, the beautiful New York City locations, and the hurried 39-day shooting schedule. This featurette and the others were produced by Laurent Bouzereau.
“Ghostly Effects” is a very brief 2-minute sampler of the visual effects used in the movie. There is no narration; instead it’s just computer graphic mock-ups of various shots followed by the exposed film and then showing the pieces combined to get to the finished shot.
“Some People Can Do It” is the film’s gag reel, almost 6 ¼ minutes of star Ricky Gervais’ complete inability to keep a straight face through many familiar scenes in the finished film, breaking up and ruining take after take with cases of the giggles.
The disc offers previews of Revolutionary Road, Eagle Eye, The Duchess, and Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling.
Ghost Town has a promising premise, some good laugh lines, an engaging cast, and beautiful New York City locations, but somehow it doesn’t quite come together to make a memorable film.