Friday, September 19, 2008

Ghost Town

“You died.”
“I died?”
“A little bit.”

Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) doesn’t like people. The dentist has a disdain for pretty much the entire human race, but his life is changed by an unforeseen side-effect of a routine surgery.

The dentist goes in for a routine colonoscopy, dies for seven minutes on the table, and walks out with an ability to see and hear dead people. And New York it seems has more than its share of ghosts.

Pincus is hounded by the spirits needing closure led by recently deceased Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) who wants Pincus to ruin his widow’s relationship with a lawyer. Pincus immediately falls for Gwen (Tea Leoni) and agrees, but most overcome his own personality and self-history to win her over.

A strong cast can do quite a lot for a so-so movie. Those unfamiliar with British actor Ricky Gervias are in for a nice surprise. He carries much of the film with wit, style, snootiness, and an appropriate level of clumsiness for this type of picture. I also liked The Daily Show‘s Asaif Mandvi as a colleague of Dr. Pinucs. And it’s nice to see Kinnear in a role, as Gwen puts it, as “a real asshole.”

Of course the film isn’t without some problems. Although the script does contain great set-ups for the actors it also flounders at times and relies a bit too much on the trite paint-by-number steps of romantic comedies (when the “inconvenient misunderstanding to keep the lovers apart” moment occurred all I could do was groan). And, although the scene is funny, I’m not sure the cartoonish insanity of the doctor (Kristen Wiig) was the right way to go in dealing with Pincus’ short hospital stay. And, of course, the film gets a little sappy in the final act as Dr. Pinus’ heart finally melts and the film leaves us with the forgone conclusion of a happy ending.

The Diagnosis
Although flawed the film does contain some good performances and memorable moments. It’s an enjoyable couple of hours in which you can root for the triumph of the human spirit, even one as Grinch-like as Bertram Pincus, D.D.S.

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