Movie News & Reviews

'Ghost Town' not bad for rom-com genre

Blame it on the external genitals if you want, but the romantic comedyis just about my least favorite genre.

Unlike musicals, however -- who breaks out in song? Insanepeople, that's who, people who should be shocked in the head -- I'mcapable of liking rom-coms. There's just something false about most ofthem, what with all the love and happiness. Like, 30% of myrelationships start with huffing into a telephone, but you never seethat in movies. I'm aware that nine hours of sobbing into an empty KFCbucket in a dark room is hardly enthralling cinema, but that would, atleast in my experience, and thus the experience of everyone, moreaccurately capture the average Saturday night.

Most bafflingly, in rom-com-land, people not only see past eachothers' faults, but they also overcome their own! Instead of making each othermiserable and actively sabotaging their own happiness, they becomebetter people and shit! Forget wizards and elves, now that isan escapist genre. So Ghost Town, a romantic comedy that alsoinvolves the wandering spirits of the dead, could have been about asfar removed from reality as it gets. Yet barring the ghosties, it's alot closer to life than most of its rom-com cousins.

During a routine colonoscopy, Ricky Gervais dies for seven minutes.Upon his revival, he has the not-so-routine ability to see and speakto the scores of ghosts haunting NYC's streets. That's the last thingGervais -- a rude, socially avoidant recluse -- wants in his life.

Cheating bastard Greg Kinnear, meanwhile, died a few months back, andis not pleased that ex-wife Tea Leoni is now reengaged. He makesGervais a deal: break them up, and he'll get all the other ghosts toleave Gervais alone.

Gervais' first attempts do not go well. Leoni warms to his pricklywit, though. Soon, she's got doubts about the humorless do-goodershe's about to marry. Gervais, seeing her new beau's not the jerkKinnear made him out to be, starts to have doubts of his own.

Ghost Town wouldn't be much without Gervais, who's perfectlycast as an awkward, antisocial, but effortlessly funny crank. It'seasy to see why Leoni falls for him when you're busy swooningyourself. He's pulling down Manhattan dentist money, too? Damn, it'senough to make a dude line up for a sex change.

If anything, Gervais makes the leap from pathetic prick to winningfunnyman with unbelievable swiftness. Sure, complaining aboutunrealistic personal growth in a movie where ghosts are bossingeveryone around is like inviting the Predator to your vegan soiree andlecturing him after he ties your husband to the hood of hisinterstellar Chevy, but writers David Koepp (who also directed) andJohn Kamps' solid script could have been something special if they'ddug deeper into Gervais' self-induced isolation.

Or if they'd kicked the ghosts up a notch. They're mostly relegated toplot devices, a threat to throw at Gervais whenever he resistsKinnear's will rather than individuals with their own goals, which iseffective if unimaginative. Still, I believe it was Chekhov who saidif there's a loaded ghost in the first act, there needs to be ablood-soaked exorcism in the third.

They do keep the love story tight. Nice work there. Just wish they'dcut loose with the high-potential concept before settling into theemotional side.

It's always tricky to make the emotions work in a romantic comedy, tododge the conventional happy ending and minimize the sap while findingsomething touching. Ghost Town deflects lameness by basingGervais and Leoni's relationship on small shared moments instead ofcontrivances and ludicrously quirky gestures. (Screw Juno.)

That realism and Gervais' dark humor keep things grounded during thelast act's heavier moments, which almost pack the melancholy punchthey want to land. There's room for more insight and more fun inGhost Town, but what's here -- a lot of character-based comedyand a sweet love story -- would be enough to stand out in any genre.

Grade: B