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Ghost Town DVD Review

Ghost Town movie poster Ghost Town

Theatrical Release: September 19, 2008 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: David Koepp / Writers: David Koepp, John Kamps

Cast: Ricky Gervais (Dr. Bertram Pincus, D.D.S.), Tιa Leoni (Gwen), Greg Kinnear (Frank Herlihy), Billy Campbell (Richard), Kristen Wiig (Surgeon), Dana Ivey (Marjorie Pickthall), Aasif Mandvi (Dr. Prashar), Alan Ruck (Ghost Dad), Betty Gilpin (WWII Nurse), Brian d'Arcy James (Irish Eddie), Brian Tarantina (Ghost Cop)

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In recent years, Ricky Gervais has made as fast and furious an impact on American audiences as any person involved in British comedy. First, there was "The Office",
the much-decorated BBC series he co-created, wrote, and starred in. Then there was "Extras" which took its transatlantic appeal to HBO viewers. Supporting roles in American movies like Night at the Museum and Stardust followed. Perhaps the next logical step was to headline a film, something he achieved in 2008's Ghost Town.

The only Briton of this distinctly US production, Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a misanthropic Manhattan dentist from London. After a routine colonoscopy leaves him dead for seven minutes, Pincus suddenly can see and hear ghosts. Just as in The Sixth Sense, the spirits of the dead are human in appearance and behavior. And just as Haley Joel Osment's troubled boy Cole Sear figured out, the ghosts have unfinished business they need help tending to. Those haunting Pincus are generally polite and cheerful, but it is not in his nature to cooperate, and he certainly views the phenomena as a curse rather than a gift.

Misanthropic Manhattan dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is pitched a plan by the tuxedoed ghost he now sees and hears (Greg Kinnear). Tιa Leoni plays Gwen, an anthropologist, a widow, and a potential love interest.

While many of the city's departed are eager to address the unpleasant dentist, none are as influential and persistent as Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), a well-to-do businessman looking out for the wife he cheated on in life. The widow in question is the rebounding Gwen (Tιa Leoni), an archaeologist who's already engaged to a seemingly saintly human rights lawyer (Billy Campbell) Frank believes to be sinister. Frank enlists Pincus to break up the betrothal, in exchange for a return of peace and privacy.

Thinking himself to be a viable alternative to Gwen's fiancι, Dr. Pincus tries clumsily to turn off his abhorrence for humanity and turn on something resembling charm. Since this is a romantic comedy, the doughy doc uses his sense of humor to get close to Gwen,
volunteering his dental expertise to help her obtain answers about a mummy she's preparing to exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This part of the plot -- successful, pretty, engaged Egyptologist takes a liking to the callous neighbor who's repeatedly wronged her -- requires more open-mindedness from the viewer than the easy to embrace fantasy premise. And yet the movie clears this and other major challenges, becoming an investable and unexpectedly deep drama.

One can easily lump Pincus with David Brent and Andy Millman, Gervais' two iconic television antiheroes, in spirit. But the different profession is emphasized and explored as part of satisfactory characterization efforts. The fact that Gervais isn't leading man on looks or physique ensures us it is his talents which got him this job, and his excellent comic timing greatly benefits the proceedings. As on TV, though, Gervais isn't simply being funny; he finds and seizes intangible opportunities to make us look beyond the brash personality and like him even without the movie spoon-feeding us a redemption. Gervais' understated approach helps draw out the best in Leoni and Kinnear, co-stars who already approach the material with candor.

In a narrow supply closet, Dr. Pincus has to squeeze answers out of his reticent surgeon (Kristen Wiig) and the hospital's lawyer (Michael-Leon Wooley). Bertram (Ricky Gervais) and Gwen (Tea Leoni) enjoy a fall ramble in New York's Central Park.

You wouldn't expect little Ghost Town to have come from someone who's had a hand in the screenplays for such high-profile blockbusters as Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, War of the Worlds, and the latest Indiana Jones movie. In fact, those four substantial adventures all deserve more credit than they get. But more than just vivid characters and true heart, David Koepp brings an intimacy to this film. A fine sensibility is noticeable in Koepp's direction. More comedic than his past experiences in the helm (Stir of Echoes, Secret Window), Ghost Town impresses with its apt tone. The movie manages to be both witty and touching, while largely shunning sentimentality. Even when operating in a domain as unfunny as death, the film mines a few genuine laughs.

While his best-known creation continues to live on in Steve Carell and NBC's acclaimed, popular workplace sitcom, Ricky Gervais still has a ways to go in being recognized by the average American moviegoer. Despite overwhelmingly favorable reviews, Ghost Town did modest box office business in just 1,500 theaters this past fall. The final domestic tally of $13 million fell short of the reported $20 M budget, but the film earned another $10 M in Gervais' homeland. It should also perform well on home video, provided people can get the word out on this little treat, which recently garnered a Satellite Award nomination for Gervais.

DreamWorks and Paramount, the parent company it will soon depart, issued Ghost Town on DVD and Blu-ray over the weekend, one of many releases forgoing a standard Tuesday debut this month.

Buy Ghost Town on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: December 28, 2008
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $29.98)
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


Ghost Town appears in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks good on DVD. Visually, the film is a bit more polished and interesting than your ordinary comedy. Fred Murphy's photography gives us a unique look at cinema's favorite location, with many appealing shots of New York City in autumn sun. I was unable to critique the film's Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, but it sounded fine downmixed to a stereo television.

Writer/director David Koepp talks in front of three screens displaying his comedy film. Though it looks like Alan Ruck is about to be run over by this Manhattan street sweeper, "Ghostly Effects" shows us how this Ghost Dad is truly safe. Ricky Gervais wipes away tears of laughter while corpsing in the Ghost Town bloopers reel. (Is he havin' a laugh?)


The extras begin with an audio commentary by writer/director David Koepp and star Ricky Gervais. The presence of Gervais establishes this as a light and amusing listen, but the two do open up plenty about their shared production experiences and guiding intentions.
Their insults of those listening are a little off-putting, but it's all in good fun.

On the video front, there are three features. First and most comprehensive, "Making Ghost Town" (22:35) takes a thorough look at production. With the usual blend of set footage, talking head sound bites, and film clips, this fine piece covers all the relevant bases. Among the topics tackled are the creative processes of Koepp and Gervais, leading characters, the minimal use of visual effects, filming in New York, and belief in ghosts.

"Ghostly Effects" is a 2-minute reel which breaks down a handful of challenging but seamless visual effects sequences, realized with greenscreen, animatics, motion control cameras, and CGI.

Last is "Some People Can Do It" (6:20), a collection of outtakes. Such an inclusion was inevitable, as those familiar with Gervais' work can attest to. His loud cackle is seen derailing many a scene, as bleeped profanity and digitally blurred mouths abound.

The disc launches with lengthy trailers for Revolutionary Road, The Duchess, Eagle Eye, and Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling, followed by a short anti-tobacco commercial. The same things play from the bonus menu's "Previews" listing after a trailer for American Teen.

The boring menus employ static promotional imagery and a looped instrumental score excerpt on the main page. There are no inserts within the black Infiniti keepcase.

The deceased Fred looks on as Bertram and Gwen list his faults in one of the scenes that gives the film a supernatural Cyrano de Bergerac feel. Dozens of New York ghosts with unfinished business are just waiting to be heard by Bertram Pincus, D.D.S.


Ghost Town knows that you've already seen movies about humans being contacted by spirits of the deceased;
its tagline even pays homage to The Sixth Sense. But while it may remind you of things like Ghost or even the director's Stir of Echoes, the film doesn't feel old hat. An earnest picture which offers humor, meaning, and the reliably entertaining Ricky Gervais, Ghost Town is for the most part a delight. It may have soared even higher if it didn't belong to such a formulaic genre or suffer from a few gaps in logic. Still, not only does it handily surpass most in its class, it will also likely win you over regardless of your position on romcoms. Though the void of deleted scenes is surprising, the DVD satisfies with its worthwhile commentary and better than usual making-of featurette.

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Related Reviews:
Over Her Dead Body • Run Fatboy Run • Get Smart • Tropic Thunder • Drillbit Taylor • The Love Guru • Everything You Want
Featuring Ricky Gervais: Stardust • Night at the Museum • Valiant | Greg Kinnear: Invincible | Alan Ruck: The Happening
Kristen Wiig: Knocked Up • Semi-Pro • Unaccompanied Minors | Bill Campbell: The Rocketeer • Bram Stoker's Dracula
Written by David Koepp: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull • Angels & Demons
New to DVD and Blu-ray: Ghost (Blu-ray) • The Women • The X-Files: I Want to Believe • Step Brothers

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Reviewed December 30, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 DreamWorks Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, and DreamWorks Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.