Ricky Gervais, best known as Steve Carell's doppelganger on the British version of "The Office" (in other words, the original, more awkward Michael), gets his first chance as a leading man in a major U.S. release with Ghost Town, a movie about a dentist who suddenly discovers that he can see dead people.
The concept has been done before, and with all rights Ghost Town should have been a forgettable, bland movie. The marketing people sure wanted to make you believe this, because yes, it's their job to keep as many people out of theaters as possible. And make as little money for the studio as possible. Ghost Town only earned $13 million in the U.S., and an equivalent amount in the UK. The marketing department sold Ghost Town as a not-so-funny, unoriginal, no-need-to-see comedy, and audiences bought it hook, line and sinker.
Marketing can be deceptive. Ghost Town is funny, smart and... well, it's funny and smart. Yes, the story, about a guy who sees dead people who wants him to help them complete their one final task, has been done many times before, but the screenplay is what makes the picture work. The edgy, awkward, sarcastic dialogue that abounds throughout the film is top notch, and perfectly written for Gervais, who is essentially the father of awkward, sarcastic personalities for the 21st century. Gervais has a knack for portraying characters that are both charming and cringe-inducing, though charming might not be the right word... He's likable, almost huggable, but knows how to be a sarcastic, unintentional asshole while being so.
Compared to some of the other great comedies of the year, Ghost Town isn't nonstop laughs and hilarity at every turn, but in many ways, it is a more sincere comedy. While it certainly isn't for little children, the movie is also much more family friendly than the sex-and-profanity laden comedies like Role Models and Forgetting Sarah Marshall; adults who don't understand that type of comedy might appreciate this throwback film. Ghost Town isn't an old school comedy, but it shows that by creating the right characters and saying the right things at the right time, comedies don't need to rely on R-rated humor to impress audiences.
Get over the prejudice that the marketing department implanted in your mind and check out Ghost Town; you will end up satisfied.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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