Directed by David Koepp. Written by Koepp and John Kamps. With Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear.
On the operating table, a misanthropic dentist named Bertram (Gervais) goes dead for seven minutes. When he recovers and leaves the hospital, he's hounded by dozens of the recently deceased, all begging him to settle scores with their surviving loved ones. The most persistent of the lot is Frank (Kinnear), a philanderer who wants Bertram to divert his widow Gwen (Leoni) from her infatuation with another man. Agreeing just to get rid of Frank, Bertram clumsily courts Gwen and discovers that that abscess in his heart might be love.
Koepp has had his name as screenwriter on a bunch of blockbusters including Spider-Man, the first Mission Impossible and Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull all without revealing much of an authorial personality. Not so for the smaller movies he's directed as well as written. Toy Soldiers and Bad Influence percolated with the fractious rivalry of young males, and Stir of Echoes dug deep into a widower's need to be haunted. Both those themes show up in the curiously affecting Ghost Town, which says that it's the living who can't let go of the dead, and that the best solution is to get on with life while you still have some left.
Gervais is an unlikely hero for a romantic comedy. His gray face is quintessentially English: pudgy from pudding and toffee, sagging from resignation at the ebbing of Empire. But as star and co-creator of The Office and Extras, he's a whiz at unearthing the humor in thoughtless annoyance. Kinnear (who early in the film has one of the all-time fabulous killed-by-a-bus scenes in movie history) does his usual suave job finding roguish colors in Wasp blandness. And Leoni, whose intelligence and sense of dialogue delivery could have ornamented witty love stories in another Hollywood age, deftly juggles Gwen's two major moods: animosity and surrender. When Bertram rashly insults Gwen's new beau, Leoni produces a terrific cough to cover her explosion of laughter. Viewers will have a few of those. At the end, warm tears are also permitted.
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