Bertram Pincus is British dentist (oh, the irony) living in New York City. He's also an insufferable jerk who would be much happier if everyone just stopped talking to him. After a snag during a minor surgical procedure, Pincus dies for "a bit less" than 7 minutes, but is revived and sent home. Strange thing is he now has the ability, or rather the affliction, of being able to see dead people. These dead folks are roaming the streets of New York ostensibly to take care of their unfinished business, and the word is out amongst New York's deceased population that this guy can see them and talk to them, and they ALL need a favor. What could be worse for a man who hates people and cares not for their woes, or their joys for that matter, than to have throngs of needy ex-people with constant access to him, day or night? But he finds an out when the recently-ran-over-by-a-bus Frank Herlihy, played by an overly glib Greg Kinnear, promises Pincus that he will get those pesky spirits to leave him alone if only Pincus will help him get his wife (Tea Leoni) to NOT marry this "jerk" she is about to marry. Pincus agrees to help, at first to sabotage the relationship, but soon Pincus realizes that he wants to steal her for himself. Thus begins the gargantuan task of wresting the beautiful Gwen away from her dashing and important civil rights attorney fiance' played by Bill Campbell.
Ghost Town is the first attempt at a straight-up comedy for writer-director David Koepp, who has penned many Hollywood blockbusters in other genres. It's perhaps this fact that hampers Ghost Town's ability to wring any really good laughs out of this well-meaning film. It's well made, but it plays like a nice piano that is slightly out of tune. Gervais is quite good at playing abrasive characters like his own creation, David Brent from the original “Office” series, who is quite annoying but vastly more vulnerable and sympathetic than this lout. Bertram Pincus is so rude that it's difficult to care about anything he does. It's not for about 40 minutes into the film that he says anything to make the audience care whether he falls into an open sewer, and by this time it seems too late. Things do seem to get more on track once Pincus actually softens up a little bit and decides that he likes Gwen, a woman who coincidentally lives in his building and whom he has routinely stolen cabs from, and left waiting in the lobby for the next elevator, but Pincus has been so difficult to like that any affection she begins to feel for this guy seems a bit hard to swallow.
One of the film's nicer ideas is why all these ghosts are still hanging around. Pincus is only able to figure it out after some soul-searching and an epiphany that arrives a little too passively and conveniently, but I did like the sentiment behind it and it did deliver some touching payoffs for the leads and minor characters.
In addition to a warning right at the beginning about how bad it is to smoke cigarettes (thanks, DreamWorks) the DVD also features audio commentary by Gervais and Keopp, which reminds me – and I am not bagging on Ghost Town for this – I believe there should be a global ten-year waiting period for extra features and audio commentary for all DVD releases. After a decade has past, if there's still any interest, only then should the filmmakers get together to reminisce about whatever may have captured the public's imagination. Do we honestly need to hear the director of Fast and Furious 4 talking about how wonderful Paul Walker was to work with? And don't get me started on the deleted scenes featuring Vin Diesel taking night classes to overcome his dyslexia. Getting back to it, I'll give Ghost Town a rating of 3 out of 5 stars. I think Gervais fans will be a little disappointed but the film does have some laughs and some nice moments.