The morbid comedy or, the comedy in which half of its characters are actually ghosts, can be a tough sale for most audiences, and amongst the biggest cynics of anything to do with cinematic spirits haunting the screen is I. The reasoning behind this hard-to-sell concept is simple; the dead, that is, the spirit likeness of a human being, in modern society are usually treated with grave seriousness. From the grim tales of the Bible to images of mourning families trying to 'celebrate' during a wake; the concepts of the afterlife and comedy quite often juxtapose to the point where bemusement brought on through absurdity is more commonplace than laughter. Therefore it was no surprise earlier this year when romantic comedy Over Her Dead Body failed to deliver much laughs or even romance at all, instead only taking the two clashing ideas and, well, clashing them together hoping it would all work out in the end (it didn't). While Ghost Town doesn't necessarily do anything remotely different from the aforementioned feature –at least concerning the script's comedy department- it is in the movie's emotional core and characters present that such clashing of half-baked spiritual plotting with slapstick comedy gets softened into something a lot more digestible. The result is a story that fails to register on an engaging level based upon its basic premise alone, but eventually more than makes up for it with a sweet romance that tickles just as much as it warms the heart.
Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is a sad, lonely man, and although he would argue otherwise, has nobody to blame but himself. A cynically jaded misanthrope who goes out of his way to avoid all human contact, Pincus doesn't necessarily describe himself as a people person and doesn't want others to think so either. After a routine colonoscopy goes wrong in the anaesthetic department, Bertram clinically dies for seven minutes and wakes up a changed man; or at least the same man in a changed world. Now blessed with the ability to see the dead and communicate with them, Pincus not only has to deal with the living, but the dead too. Sure enough, it's pure baloney, and it certainly starts off that way with little hints at going anywhere else. Thankfully however, it's not long until certain romantic elements creep in involving recently widowed (you can hopefully see how this occurs) Gwen which allows both Bertram and the movie as a whole to shed their silly outer layer to reveal some emotional depth. Of course, the walking dead thing continues on throughout the entire feature, but thankfully it isn't as tacked on as you might imagine. Plus, linking the ghost plot with a living, breathing core, the movie brings both elements to a close effectively that capitalises on the development that was given to each beforehand. Yes, it's possibly the weakest element of the feature, but that's not really saying much at all.
By the far the greatest thing about Ghost Town however lies in its comedy, which is fronted by lead man Ricky Gervais, who teams up alongside Greg Kinnear to create a movie with both class and wit, not to mention a little bit of welcome shtick. Gervais, who goes about his role here with about the same mentality as he has so far implemented in his TV roles, delivers a wonderful performance here that embodies his character's comedic cynicism with absolute precision. If you already know the comedian then you know that much of his charm and natural comic ability comes from his timing and delivery; he doesn't necessarily try to make you laugh, and it isn't in the things he says, but how he says them, and when he does so. Through this Gervais makes sure not only to deliver his jokes with enough frequency to keep amusement levels high, but he crafts a character out of such moments too; the jokes never cheapen his persona, but only strengthen it.
Backing star Kinnear plays Gervais' ghost buddy-of-sorts, and while he does a lot of background work, nevertheless creates a strong enough character himself, doing well not to take focus from the lead, and yet making sure to create something interesting to look at when the focus shifts from time to time. Téa Leoni provides as the film's love interest for Gervais, and while the two never quite click as a romantic match per se, the director knows when to cut and call it a day, establishing romance without ever ruining the moment. Leoni is always comfortable in her position and shares some humorous and touching interplay with her co-stars which further the scripts warm, humanist tones.
In the end I was pleasantly surprised by the time the credits rolled. Not just from the fact that I felt genuinely fulfilled by a straight forward comedy about ghosts, but that I was often moved by what was presented to me. Of course, Ghost Town, although largely a ghost movie by façade and pure premise, is actually far from such a movie. If anything, the real core here is always focused upon using the memories of those ghosts to create tangible, living breathing characters that feel emotionally resonating and of course, are side stitchingly funny. Sure enough it's over the top, silly and at times even a little tiresome, but in the end, such ideas are justified by the payoff and development of character that is established as a result. In this way Ghost Town achieves a sense of relevancy that most movies of the subgenre fail to reach, managing to speak to us through comedy and romance that comes together to create a feature that is simply good fun to watch. With an unforgettable performance by Gervais, and enough heat between characters to justify much of the film's otherwise ridiculous elements, Ghost Town is a surprise hit; charming, delightful and full of life.