Review: Ghost Town

Washington Post movie reviewer Ann Hornaday says the recently released movie Ghost Town falls into the genre of “the Really Good Movie”. Because it has been a while since I had seen a really good movie my wife and I made a point of going to see it.

I am not sure I would throw Ghost Town into the really good movie category, but I can comfortably place it in the pretty darn good movie category. This is probably because except for the last twenty minutes of so, Ghost Town, while often interesting and amusing, is also difficult to endure.

Specifically, it is difficult to watch Bertram Pincus, D.D.S., a generally loathsome character portrayed by British character actor Ricky Gervais. Pincus suffers from a fatal flaw: irritable man syndrome. In real life when you encounter someone like this antisocial dentist, you would immediately move to the other side of the room. In Ghost Town, since Pincus is the lead character, you have to inhabit his word for 102 minutes. Pincus is a dentist who moved from London to New York City because he hates crowds (go figure). He works in a multi-partner dental practice in Manhattan. He likes his profession in part because he so rarely needs to have meaningful conversation with anyone. Mostly he wants to be left alone. At the end of his workday, he is completely comfortable retiring to his condominium. He is not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge except he is not obsessed with thriftiness and has a gentle self-deprecating sense of humor.

Pincus must have hit the big 5-0 because he reluctantly checks into the hospital for a colonoscopy. In doing so, he also manages to irritate everyone on the staff. After he wakes up, he discovers that he can see ghosts. Apparently, while in the operating room he was technically dead for seven minutes. Unfortunately, he cannot distinguish between ghosts and real people, which makes life very confusing. Moreover, the ghosts wandering around Manhattan are there because they have some unfinished business. Pincus is their sole conduit with the living. Because he is a loner and ghosts have little respect for his privacy, this is quite annoying. In addition, they sure are persistent, following him en masse around the city and occupying the spare seats in the dental office. He sometimes has to invent clever ruses to escape them. One of the ghosts is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear). While in the process of setting up a love nest for some hanky panky, Frank had an unfortunate encounter with a falling air conditioner. Frank latches onto Pincus with more force than a lamprey’s mouth to the hull of a ship. This is due to the convenient fact that Pincus just happens to live in the same apartment complex as his wife.

Pincus, being an irritable man, has hardly endeared himself with Frank’s wife Gwen (Téa Leoni). In fact, he has repeatedly ignored her requests to hold the elevator door and refused to share cabs with her. Yet in order to get Frank to leave him alone he must help him with some unfinished business with Gwen. Since Kinnear also excels in playing irritable characters, Bertram and Frank become a new Odd Couple somehow deserving of each other. Unlike Pincus, Frank at least is attractive or was before he had his encounter with immortality. To rid himself of Frank, Pincus finds that he must try to develop a friendship with Gwen. It proves an uphill task, made worse by Pincus’s pathological tendency to say the worst possible things at the worst possible time.

What makes this all endurable is its underlying light comedy. Pincus may be irritable, but he is irritable in a largely benign way that usually lacks in overt hostility. Over time, we learn that much of his irritability can be traced to a past relationship whose baggage still weighs him down. The same was true with Ebenezer Scrooge.

The light humor and the potpourri of ancillary characters make the movie generally endurable but as a moviegoer, you have to ask, toward what end? This becomes clear in the last twenty minutes of the film, causing the film to become unexpectedly poignant and endearing. God (or at least scriptwriters) works in mysterious ways.

Ghost Town is a solid B+ of a movie. At times, it drags and feels a bit slow. You may find that its light humor is not enough to make you endure Pincus and want to exit the theater instead. However, if you make it all the way through, rest assured that your patience will be rewarded.

3.1 on my 4.0 scale.

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