Middle-aged ‘smock-wearing tooth jockey’ (dentist) Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is a hateful runt of a man. He lives a life as contained as it is misanthropic. After going into hospital for an endoscopy, Bertram starts to see dead people – one of whom, Frank (Greg Kinnear), is about to change Bertram’s life by introducing him to widower Gwen (Téa Leoni).
A-list US screenwriter David Koepp, the man responsible for the final drafts of Spider-Man and Indiana Jones IV, dons his occasional director cap (Stir of Echoes, The Secret Window) for this Manhattan-set interpretation of A Christmas Carol. The results are predictably bland but not without their merits. Giving his first feature film lead role proper (though sharing top billing with support Kinnear) Gervais is excellent. Through what was clearly an improvisational process he builds nuance and depth onto what must have appeared on paper to be a one-dimensional portrait of a social cripple. When he does what he can do well, he upgrades the film to something far more Jack Lemmon-esque and heartwarming. Also there are some great visual gags here (mostly borrowed from the Marx Brothers, but who cares?).
Unbelievable character arcs, bad writing and some really miserable pacing ultimately undo all the good work, of course. Ghost Town was a box office disaster in the US. European audiences may be kinder.
General release from Fri 24 Oct.