Genuinely funny Gervais vehicle is surprisingly heartwarming

GHOST TOWN initially looks like an awkward proposition. Ricky Gervais stars alongside Greg Kinnear in what looks suspiciously like a romantic comedy.

However, fine performances and unexpectedly good chemistry across the cast made for a surprisingly funny and touching film.

Gervais plays Bertram Pincus (known simply as Pincus ), an aggressively misanthropic dentist who goes out of his way to avoid interactions with people, even unnecessarily stuffing his patients’ mouths with instruments to get them to shut up.

A near death experience following a routine operation leaves Pincus with the ability to see dead people. The ghosts he is soon surrounded by are overjoyed he can see them and promptly begin asking Pincus to tidy up their various unfinished affairs.

Pincus is haunted by one ghost in particular: Frank (Greg Kinnear ), an unfaithful husband who was run over by a bus. Undeterred by death, Frank hangs around in hopes of breaking up his widow’s engagement to a new man.

Determined, Frank enlists the reluctant Pincus’ help in sabotaging the relationship between widow Gwen (Tea Leoni ) and her fiancé. As Pincus gets to know Gwen through a serious of sneaky ruses, he begins to fall for her himself, which in turn leads him to rethink his antipathy towards other people.

What starts as an odd fish out of water scenario, placing Gervais at the centre of what appears to be a character study about misanthropy, turns slightly clumsily into a recognisable Hollywood once Gwen’s character is introduced.

The result still incorporates an uneasy mix of sub-Woody Allen neurotic male humour and aspects of TV’s The Ghost Whisperer, but overall the film is funnier and warmer than I expected it to be.

Gervais as an upmarket New York dentist does seem somewhat of a reach, as does the idea of Gervais as a convincing romantic lead. Yet while Gervais has moments where he is out of his depth as a mean-spirited hermit turned heartbroken wreck, generally he manages to convince us of his character’s improbable sea-change.

The reliable Kinnear and Leoni deliver excellent performances, somehow transcending the film’s preposterous premise.

Ghost Town is unusual in that it is more than the sum of its jarringly disparate parts, resulting in a frequently hilarious, but also oddly moving, romantic comedy. Depending on US box office results, the impact on Gervais’ career could be significant.

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