I have no idea if writer/director David Koepp created "Ghost Town" with Ricky Gervais in mind, but after watching it you won't be able to see how it could have worked in any way without him.
What they've managed to do is take a fairly routine ghost/love story and turn it into a bona fide charmer. And for the record, I can't remember the last time I bothered to see a movie about ghosts that wasn't a horror flick because I generally have little tolerance for sap.
There's certainly more than a little of that here, and more and more of it as the flick goes on, but from the outset it's a showcase for Gervais' endearingly jaded view of the world. As dentist Bertram Pincus, he's annoyed with just about everyone and everything around him.
The first 20 minutes or so (after you get to watch Greg Kinnear die, which I suppose has its own kind of joy for a certain number of folks) are basically one long Gervais riff, and it reaches its funniest point when he tries to get a straight answer about his slightly botched colonoscopy (of course) from a dippy, spray-tanning doctor (Kristen Wiig) and the hospital's lawyer/enforcer (Micheal-Leon Wooley). I guarantee that if you've ever been even a little frustrated with doctors (and if you haven't, I'm amazed) you'll just laugh out loud at all of this.
It's that operation that left Gervais' Pincus dead for about seven minutes or so, and afterward cursed with the ability to see and communicate with the many ghosts that lurk on New York's streets (and the flick, by the way, makes great use of NYC in the fall.) Luckily for us, until the inevitable warming of his heart, he remains just as annoyed with the dead as he was with the living, and just as caustic with their many requests.
Chief among them is Kinnear, who enlists Pincus to break up his widow's engagement to a human rights lawyer. The two of them are funny enough, but what saves the flick from ever careening completely into the realm of schmaltz is Tea Leoni, who as Kinnear's widow just has a natural rapport with Gervais. One of the movie's true pleasures is in watching her try to stifle her laughs at the more inappropriate of Gervais' riffs (cheeky but rarely crude stuff, a welcome change from the norm.) And "Daily Show" fans will enjoy seeing Aasif Mandvi as Pincus' dental partner who has to deal with all his most anti-social outbursts.
In the end, you won't learn a whole lot from this late-summer charmer, and hopefully Ricky Gervais won't either, because we all need him to be as sardonic as possible after this turn that should hopefully show the world he can successfully topline a Hollywood flick.
Unfortunately, a quick look at the box office numbers shows this one will only make about $5.5 million and finish behind even "My Best Friend's Girl." That's a real shame, but I think word of mouth about Gervais will keep this one in theaters for a good little while, so consider this my little part to help with that. Just go see it already!