It has been a Ricky Gervais mantra that he would not act in a film for the sake of it; that there was no point being in a film if the work was not interesting. Certainly, the small and finite amount of episodes planned for his TV shows The Office and Extras suggest that his career plan is for low output and high quality. How then to explain his appearance in TV show Alias and Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum let alone the upcoming Night at the Museum II: Battle of the Smithsonian? Gervais’ career is strong but he’s set himself up quite highly so his failures are more conspicuous than others. So is Gervais’ first starring role in a Hollywood film, Ghost Town, a step towards exposing a wider audience towards his particular brand of comedy or has he strayed from his self-imposed goal of low-output/high-quality?In Ghost Town, Gervais plays a dentist Bertram Pincus with an aversion for the company of his fellow man. After a routine operation, Pincus attains the ability to speak to ghosts and finds himself constantly harrassed by the ghosts of New York City. They all want him to finish off their unfinished business. One ghost in particular, played by Greg Kinnear, wants Pincus to talk his ex-wife (Tea Leoni) out of marrying a humourless human rights lawyer. Of course, Pincus falls for her. Will they fall in love? Will Pincus redeem himself? Will Greg Kinnear’s ghost find peace in the afterlife?
If it sounds a bit predictable, that’s because it is predictable. Ghost Town is a likeable enough romantic comedy but suffers from comparison to other films: Think As Good as it Gets meets Ghost (the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore/Whoopi Goldberg flick) with the misanthropy of Bill Murray from Groundhog Day thrown in but not quite as good as any of those films. The fault mostly falls at the feet of David Koepp the director and co-writer of the film w. As a writer, Koepp is better-known for churning out efficient Hollywood blockbusters such as Spider-Man, Panic Room, Jurassic Park and the last Indiana Jones sequel. The romance elements of the script are sweet but predictable while the comedy moments are a bit hammy for my taste. As a director, Koepp doesn’t quite know how to frame a shot or edit a scene to capture the comic rhythm of his actors.
If there is one thing to learn from all this, it’s that Ricky Gervais is much better performing his own material. It’s not that he is bad in this – It’s that he always plays Ricky Gervais and only his own screenplays seem to be effective vehicles for his very identifiable performance style. Half the time of Ghost Town, I was thinking that Gervais was performing someone’s lame interpretation of a Gervais script and half the time I felt like Gervais was improvising and breaking out of character. This isn’t helped by the fact that Ghost Town‘s script has neither the biting wit of The Office and Extras nor the quotidian details that made those shows relatable. In the end Ghost Town is merely OK. It’s not terrible but it’s not helping Gervais batting average either. If you’re a Gervais fan and you’re saving your money, wait until the next Gervais-vehicle This Side of the Truth which Gervais as co-written and co-directed.
SEE THIS WITH:
As Good As It Gets (James L. Brooks, 1997)
Ghost (Jerry Zucker, 1990)
Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
Topper (Norman Z. McLeod, 1937)