The Red Right Hand

He Sees Dead People... And They Annoy Him

David Koepp

Ricky Gervais
Greg Kinnear
Tea Leoni

Ghost Town opens on adultering philanthropist, Frank Herlihy [Kinnear], as he walks through the streets of New York and meets with a rather unfortunate demise. Shortly afterward, we are introduced to our second lead, misanthropic dentist, Bertram Pincus [Gervais] - a man who loathes everyone around him and makes it his life mission to avoid all unnecessary human contact. After a routine colonoscopy goes array, Dr. Pincus is informed that he died for just under seven minutes; this near-death experience leaves him with the disorientating side-effect known in the movie industry as 'The Sixth Sense kid thing' - i.e. he can commune with the dead. Having been pursued across Manhattan, Pincus reluctantly agrees to help one soul in exchange for guaranteed peace and quiet. The ghost in question is, of course, Frank and his unfinished business relates to his widow and her new prospective hubby, who is allegedly only after her money. Naturally, Pincus' plan is to plant the seed of doubt in Gwen's [Leoni] mind by illustrating that there are other men out there; namely himself. It's a fairly simple and popular rom-com plot device, so I'll spare you the rest; obviously, he starts to fall for her and the ghosts help him realise that he's too crabby or whatever.

Ricky Gervais' comedy pisses me off. I must be one of the only people in Britain who doesn't sing high praises for The Office because I just don't enjoy Gervais' comic sensibilities. Additionally, his stand-up material has its moments but on the whole, I'm left largely unimpressed. Even though he offered the film's best performance and managed to make me laugh fairly consistently, this stigma has managed to translate across. There are moments and scenes that are genuinely hilarious and engrossing and others that simply leave you feeling frustrated and annoyed. Two key examples happen fairly early on; the first is when Pincus discovers his newfound 'power' and confronts the surgeon responsible. The rapport is completely off, the timing is terrible and the duration is excruciating. The second happens shortly after Pincus meets Gwen's do-gooder fiancée and comments 'No, I support human rights. We're all equal on this planet... except the Chinese.' He then proceeds to dive into a slur of racial jokes about Asian names (to a surprisingly entertained Gwen) before cutting himself off. The embarrassing situation appeals to my British sense of humour but the very fact that it's not really that funny pissed me off more. Having said that, when the tone hits perfectly, the effect resonates; as Pincus is being led to the operating room he has a brief discussion with the surgeon and attendants about their flippancy over the procedure - frivolously discussing spray on tans and teeth whitening. Again, that appealed to my sensibilities because that sort of shit really hacks me off... spray-on tans, how fucking stupid!

With the comedy elements to one side, there's the romantic side and to be honest, I didn't see it. That's in no way meant to be an insult towards Gervais, more his character's mindset. You see, filmmakers don't have the time to highlight all his minor flaws, so they have to simply condense his obnoxiousness into a series of rude interactions - this is for audiences to see a radical change and the more of an arsehole he is to begin with (and subsequently, the bigger the change), the happier the audience will feel about themselves... or life... or whatever it is the marketers are aiming for. But the change is so steep and severe that it simply seems unbelievable; surely he could just be a little grumpy and angry from time-to-time, rather than a fucking saint? Finally, there's the pace and the ghosts. The pace is fairly self-explanatory, due to the poorly timed jokes, the film drags on in places and could easily have been trimmed down a good 10-15 minutes. Then there are the ghosts themselves. My first reaction was to complain about the number of ghosts and how they all appeared to be dressed as if they died no more than five years ago (this was explained later, as I shall detail in a moment). More than that, they were only a handful in number and I initially imagined New York would be littered with literally thousands of dead people. **Spoiler moment** The reason the ghosts were dressed the way they were was actually one of the best (and original) points of the film. For centuries we have been fed the notion that ghosts are simply spirits of the deceased with 'unfinished business.' I've always had a problem with that concept; the idea that certain dead people didn't get something done in life, so they're doomed to walk the Earth - bollocks, everyone who dies has unfinished business, namely, their lives! The concept offered by this film is that the living (those unable to let go) trap the dead in a limbo state; which explains why the ghosts only exist from a certain time period. It's a pretty novel idea that I greatly enjoyed but I still had a problem with the ghosts. If you're telling me that the only way a ghost is trapped on this plane of existence or reality or whatever is due to the living remembering them, what about all those 9/11 victims? Or Martin Luther King? Or anybody famous!? For the purposes of this film it's a little absurd but I still thought the script took the safe route one time too many, neatly avoiding anything of genuine substance. Spoilery bit over All-in-all, the film was greatly entertaining, will do well with fans of Gervais and if you want an escapist comedy, this is better than most out there.

Release Date:
24th October 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
The opening credits felt a little strange (especially for anyone in the audience with an intense fear of dentists - is it called odontophobia or dentophobia or something?) as the camera slowly pans lovingly over various clean, shining instruments and dental tools. The whole thing felt like the introduction to one of the Saw movies. There was also another noteworthy moment: in an attempt to extract information from Gwen's finacee, Pincus turns to his fellow dentist and on learning he is from India, ignorantly assumes he has been schooled in methods of torture. In the end he resorts to his dental skills but the exchange is still pretty amusing.

Notable Characters:
Irish Eddie, played by some guy called Brian D’Arcy James. This guy annoyed me. He annoyed me because he highlighted two key flaws with Dr. Pincus' redeeming change of personality. The first just pissed me off because it became apparent that the dead don't really know one another's names, they just go by Old Couple, Naked Guy, Irish Eddie, etc. Secondly, my good friend Mr. Wickham highlighted that in Pincus' attempts to help the dead with their problems he would have to help Irish Eddie. You see, Eddie's problem was that he needed somebody killed. There was a gun strapped to the bottom of a Cadillac or something but the main point is that Pincus would have had to kill someone in order to set this guy off on his merry. It just pissed me off that it wasn't addressed. I don't even want to know what he had to do for the naked dude...

Highlighted Quote:
"Crowds aren't the problem; it's the individuals in the crowds"

In A Few Words:
"A fairly formulaic and predictable rom-com but still packs a lot of heart and laughs"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon