Some of my favorite experiences at the movies have come as a result of stumbling across something wholly unexpected. Movies that catch us by surprise often crystallize into some of our most cherished cinematic experiences. We usually know, more or less, if the movie we're about to see will delight or disappoint. Usually it's just a matter of discovering the degree. But with the new fantasy comedy Ghost Town, the word I keep hearing on everyone's lips, critics and moviegoers alike, is "surprise." And indeed it is the best possible kind of surprise—a film at once hilarious and heartfelt.
We are predisposed to dislike the misanthropic Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais). After all, he's a dentist. Pincus' favorite time of the day is when he inserts his barbaric tools into his patients' mouths to stop their incessant talking. Pincus is rude and profoundly anti-social. It's not that he hates crowds, he says, just the people in them. So when a near-death experience during a routine hospital procedure allows him to see dead people, Pincus is suddenly overwhelmed with attention. It turns out Manhattan is overrun with ghosts (more ghosts than the living, it seems) seeking to remedy the unfinished business of their lives before they can slip away into the afterlife. And they see Pincus as their liaison to the living world.
Some spirits are more persistent than others. Enter Frank (Greg Kinnear), a philandering jerk who tells Pincus he has to break up the impending marriage between his widow Gwen (Téa Leoni), an Egyptologist who, ironically enough, works with the dead, and her new beau Richard (Billy Campbell), a third-world humanitarian lawyer. Do this, Frank says, and he and the thousands of other pleading poltergeists haunting ...1