There’s nothing particularly New York about Ghost Town other than it is set there. But last night after I saw it, I watched Woody Allen’s Another Woman and Saturday Night Live and found myself jonesing for the city pretty hard.
If you can have such a strong attachment to certain places, I guess it doesn’t stretch credibility to imagine ghosts would be strongly attached to people they knew in their previous life. That’s about the only part of Ghost Town that doesn’t stretch credibility. Ricky Gervais, playing the lead, is simultaneously the best thing about the movie and the least believable. The filmmakers go to great lengths to try to explain why he has a British accent, why he runs around all the time in a dentists uniform (in all my years in New York I never even saw a dentist in uniform in a dentist’s office, much less on the street), and why Téa Leoni’s character, who has every reason to loathe him, starts to have feelings for him.
Ghost Town was written and directed by David Koepp. An Aer-list screenwriter there never was (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Panic Room, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). I’m on record as having a lot of problems with the way he tells stories but I’m savvy enough to know that many times the faults lie with the director or the studio. I did have the feeling with Ghost Town that there were some scenes that had been cut because there were often awkward gaps in time and logic in scene transitions. (What was with the Blackberry?) But since the movie is, at least at first, a comedy, I cut it some slack.
Ricky Gervais, playing who he plays best, a misanthropist, is quite funny as dentist Bertram Pincus. The premise of the movie is that he can see ghosts, which is hell for him because he hates crowds of people anyway, and now he’s followed everywhere by a mob of ghosts who have found out he can see them and can fix things in the material world for them so they can “move on.” (This premise is like The Sixth Sense with humor.) One ghost in particular, Frank (Greg Kinnear), the late husband of Gwen (Téa Leoni), who lives in Pincus’ building, acts as a negotiator with the ghost mob. If Gervais will help him, he can get the rest of them to leave him alone. Pincus only gets serious about the deal when he gets the idea that he can wheedle his way into Gwen’s heart using Frank’s intimate knowledge of her likes and dislikes.
What could’ve been a Cyrano-like series of scenes of Pincus interacting with Gwen with Frank’s coaching is still funny thanks to Gervais and Leoni’s comedic gifts but plays out completely awkwardly. Frank disappears and reappears in the scenes with little rhyme or reason, has little to contribute and seems to care very little about how Pincus does until it seems Pincus is succeeding.
I wish the stakes had been clarified much earlier in the story. How exactly will Frank “move on” and why should we care if Frank “moves on”? Like Gervais and Leoni, Kinnear is not really supported by Koepp’s storytelling. The difference is, somehow Gervais and Leoni still manage to be funny and even a bit emotional. I never bought Kinnear’s character for one second and on his character rests the main plot of the film.
Ghost Town is not a bad movie. It is a decent movie. I think I am a bit harsh because David Koepp is supposed to be one of the greats and his way of telling stories just doesn’t work for me. Maybe we have different world views. Maybe I just need to let go of my disappointment with Panic Room and “move on.”