If you want to make money, you go to David Koepp
. Three of the 20 films he has written are on the top 25 highest-grossing American box office list and another two show up in the top 100. The man makes hits and, most of the time anyways, they are well-written and focused scripts that attempt to keep exposition to a minimum. These are the traits of a very talented screenwriter... but unfortunately they do not necessarily translate into a positive resume for a feature film director.
Ghost Town is Koepp's fourth film as a director and it is the first film to feature UK comedian Ricky Gervais in a starring role. It tells the story of a dentist named Bertram Pincus (Gervais
) who wakes from a friendly colonoscopy with the ability to see and hear the dead. It is inferred that this Shyamalanian gift was caused by a seven-minute interval during his operation where he died due to a two-strikes-already anesthesiologist. Ghosts of every color and creed begin hassling the chronically-introverted Pincus for favors, the leader of which seems to be Frank (Greg Kinnear
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A tux-donning victim of a high-speed Manhattan bus, Frank promises to get the other ghosts to leave if Bertram will help him derail his widow's pending nuptials. Turns out Frank's widow, Gwen (Téa Leoni
), has been snubbed by Pincus on a dozen occasions (they live in the same apartment building), and her fiancé (Billy Campbell
) is a civil-rights attorney. Not the easiest assignment for Pincus. But when the dentist helps crack the autopsy of a long-dead Egyptian king that Gwen is studying, she invites him to dinner, Pincus makes her laugh, and the end is already in sight. Morals are dished out on the side when Pincus agrees to help some other ghosts settle their unfinished business and there's also some stuff about "a life lived for others" passed on by a fellow dentist (Aasif Mandvi).
Much like the recent Hamlet 2
, most of the film's success rides on the comic inventiveness of its star, and in this he is given little support from his director/screenwriter. At first, Gervais seems completely up to the task, employing the cracker-dry wit that made him such a phenomenon on the BBC version of The Office, the show he created and wrote with partner Stephen Merchant. There is a bright moment of hope as he has a particularly sharp exchange with Kristen Wiig
of Saturday Night Live fame, who plays his surgeon. But then he script quickly shifts into standard operating procedure and comedy is swallowed by template.
Ghost Town has a smidgen more class than most contemporary romantic comedies but it is seemingly unaware of its strengths. Gervais' interplay with Leoni has a brisk charm to it but it seems too-often rushed and stuffed with jokes about dog poop, Chinese names, and naked ghosts, all of which seem out of place and drawn out. Egregiously over-sentimentalized, the last 30 minutes of the film rush through a half-dozen major conflicts in a mad dash to build to a predictable emotional climax. It's a total con and it sells Gervais' tremendous abilities up the river. Koepp's talents at structure falter slightly here, adding a few too many storylines than he seems capable of handling. Will Ghost Town make money? Probably, but it's the kind of film that gives box-office rankings a bad name.