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David Koepp's GHOST TOWN Screens! Can Ricky Gervais Survive a Hollywood Rom-Com?

Beaks here... I thought the trailer for David Koepp's GHOST TOWN was pleasant enough, but "pleasant" isn't exactly what I expect or want from Ricky Gervais - at least, not yet. (Basically, I want THIS SIDE OF THE TRUTH, and I want it now.) But if the studios are hellbent on selling the acerbic comedian to a wider American audience, I suppose it makes sense to start him off as a W.C. Fields-ish misanthrope who learns a thing or two about romance from the affable ghost of Greg Kinnear. Americans just love cuddly assholes. Do with that sentence what you will. Does Gervais work in a formula romantic comedy? Are Kristen Wiig's considerable talents squandered? Can Koepp (as writer-director) smoothly transition from the thriller genre? Let's see what our man in Baltimore has to say...
Ghost Town The film opens with Greg Kinnear, who is on his cell phone clearly lying to his wife (Tea Leoni) about looking at apartments, while yelling at his realtor for telling his wife about the secret love nest he was planning, he nearly dodges a falling air conditioner....only to be flattened by a bus. When his ghost wanders back in frame, you immediately know that this is going be be a somewhat "quirky" film. It doesn't open until mid September (according to the suit at the screening), but my girlfriend's dad got free passes for a screening here in Baltimore at the super fancy Landmark Theaters downtown, and he gave them to us. Win. Co-written by David Koepp with John Kamps and directed by Koepp, this was a surprising little romantic comedy. I got offered a free pass by a friend who donates to the local film festival, and managed to go into the theater without hearing/seeing/reading anything about the film in advance. What I got was a not entirely fresh, but definitely interesting, take on the Ghost story (as in Swayze). Instead of centering on the dead, our story focuses more on the living (a recurring theme in the film). Ricky Gervais plays a bitterly acerbic English-born dentist who suddenly develops a "Sixth Sense". However, he finds the dead even more annoying than the living. Gervais has a LOT of room to stretch out in this spiky-yet-occasionally-vulnerable character and I found myself vacillating between thinking he was a loathsome prick or wanting to tell him shit was going to work out, laughing the whole time. The rest of the cast isn't quite as commanding, but they hold their own more than fine and really make this movie work. Tea Leoni is good, reminding me of a more awkward and endearing Mad About You era Helen Hunt. Kinnear does a variation of his character from Little Miss Sunshine (self centered type-A jerk) with a chauvinist twist. This is not a criticism. In fact, I feel like every actor was pretty perfectly suited to the part, even the supporting cast (Kristen Wiig in particular does a version of her Knocked Up character that isn't exactly anything new from her, but her scenes with Gervais are absolutely priceless). I won't get into plot, because it's relatively simple and most of you will have it figured out in the first 5 or 10 minutes. What makes this film interesting is the way they get there. There are a couple of good twists and changes to the rom-com formula here that give the film a distinct personality (and advantage) that you don't expect from a movie like this. I especially liked their take on ghost mythology. What REALY sold me on this movie, and pretty early in, was the cast. This is a tight group, and every character interaction is different, distinct, and funny for different reasons. It's clear that a lot of thought went into putting this group together in these parts, and it pays off. I thought the pacing and flow of the film was perfect, even down to when and how fast everyone gets their Movie Epiphany™ moment. It never gets too saccharine or too predictable or too heavy handed with the "message", though one elevator scene with Gervais and Leoni gets damn close. Fortunately, Leoni has the chops to pull it off and it ends up working. Overall, this was one of the better rom-coms I've seen in a good long while. Certainly the funniest, to the point that we should consider putting into into a com-rom category. The laughs come first in this flick, but the heart the cast injects keeps it moving. Have no fear gents, this is one of those rare and beautiful creatures you don't often see: the genuinely funny and entertaining Date Movie. -- -m

Well, that's encouraging. GHOST TOWN is currently slated for release on September 19th, so this was probably a very-close-to-finished cut. Looking forward to checking this one out for myself.

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