I’m a fan of Ricky Gervais. I enjoyed the original “The Office” as well as have been a listener to his podcast series: “The Ricky Gervais Show” (really hilarious and highly recommended). I was delighted to see him in last year’s Stardust where his appearance was both mercifully and infuriatingly brief. But crossing over to new mediums is difficult work for a comic. Ask Dane Cook. And even though Gervais is no stranger to film perse, he’s extremely successful in Great Britton conquering Television, film and stage, crossing the Atlantic is also filled with peril, just ask Steve Coogan.
With Ghost Town we are given Gervais’ first real American produced starring role. Writer/Director David Koepp has just enough quirky geek credibility to make the transition seem natural. But ultimately does it work?
In the film Gervais plays Bertrum Pincus, a misanthropic dentist (a career path chosen because it allows him to “stuff things in people’s mouth and get them to shut up”), who dies for 7 minutes during a routine medical examination. When he is revived, he discovers he can see and communicate with ghosts. All of whom, naturally have unfinished business, and desperately need him to help them cross over. The most persistent of the group is Frank (Greg Kinnear) who needs Bertrum to foil the budding romance between his widow and her new romantic interest. (Played by: Téa Leoni and Billy Campbell). This prompts Bertrum to woo her as well as reconsider his foul attitude towards others, as one ghost explains it to him: “this business of being such a jerk, how’s that working out for you?”
The film is surprisingly gentle and unfortunately predictable. But it’s saved by the chemistry between the three leads. The conversations between Gervais and Leoni really do seem natural and believable. The comedy springing up naturally between the two characters rather than feeling forced. Gervais is given some space to play his shtick of saying awkward and offensive things couched in guise complements as he clumsily tries to win Leoni’s affection. The comedic timing between him and Kinnear is also enjoyable.
Koepp sets up a unique twist on the idea of why ghosts are trapped “in-between worlds” but business of straightening out the rest of New York’s lost spirits is relegated to subplot, as the romantic comedy takes forefront. It is however resolved satisfactorily by the end. Again casting Gervais as the bumbling and resentful Good Samaritan works well.
This isn’t the film I hoped to see as Gervais’ American debut, but it’s entirely possible that his undiluted persona might be too much, and Ghost Town just might be sweet enough to slowly win over American audiences. The audience I was with seemed to enjoy the film a great deal, and the Box Office performance suggests that the film is doing respectable if quiet business. So I guess it’s a bit of a blessing, at least this isn’t a big old bomb (again check in with Cook and Coogan). I look forward to what Gervais does next. Cause it can only go up from here!