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Comedy 'Ghost Town' may not be DOA, but it has a weak pulse

It's easier to believe in ghosts than in comedies about the afterlife, especially when those comedies are as blandly predictable as Ghost Town.

You'd think ghosts would do more with their spare time — face it, it's all spare time when you're dead — than wander among mortals, learning lessons they were too busy to learn while alive. Ghost Town's director David Koepp is the latest filmmaker to prove that assumption wrong.

Koepp offers up yet another movie full of actors pretending the actors playing dead people aren't there, with supernatural occurrences outnumbered by forced double-takes. Ghost Town isn't as crummy as Over Her Dead Body or Ghost Dad, but isn't as exquisitely composed as Heaven Can Wait or Truly Madly Deeply, either.

British comedian Ricky Gervais (BBC's The Office), who hasn't convinced me of his touted hilarity, plays an antisocial dentist named Bertrand Pincus, a name straining for laughs like the rest of the movie. Bertrand's chair-side manner is hostile; his relationship with colleagues not much better. Gervais adds a drollness to his lines that Koepp and John Kamps' broadly humored screenplay doesn't deserve.

Bertrand has a near-death experience during a medical procedure — a colonoscopy, of course, for cheap butt jokes — and awakens with the annoying ability to see dead people. They follow him in droves through Manhattan streets, like extras in a cellular phone network commercial. They seem to want something from Bertrand but only one breaks through his resistance.

The pushy ghost is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), a corporate go-getter who kissed a speeding bus, his spirit now stalled between Earth and wherever. Frank was a philandering husband whose widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni, the movie's best attribute), is ready to remarry a perfect guy. Naturally, flawed Frank doesn't want the wedding to happen.

If Bertrand breaks up the engagement, Frank will make his comrades in limbo lay off the dentist. But along the way to resumed isolation, Bertrand, in a 180-degree reversal of personality that happens all too abruptly, begins falling for Gwen. She lives in Bertrand's apartment building and knows firsthand his nasty disposition; her acceptance of him is equally puzzling.

So we have an undeveloped romantic rectangle with at least two unappealing sides, surrounded by ghosts. The departed walk around in whatever clothing they died in, so the naked corpse is Koepp's favorite. All the dead appear reasonably fit — diseased or mutilated victims would be too much trouble to effect — so the only way to identify them is that they make mortals sneeze, for reasons never explained.

Ghost Town plays like a marathon of a limited-run sitcom that a network jammed into its lineup after a previous show flopped. It will probably make money, if not a lot of friends.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.

. REVIEW

Ghost Town

Grade: C

Director: David Koepp

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni, Kristen Wiig, Alan Ruck

Screenplay: David Koepp, John Kamps

Rating: PG-13; strong language, sexual humor, drug references

Running time: 102 min.

Comedy 'Ghost Town' may not be DOA, but it has a weak pulse 09/17/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 17, 2008 9:54am]

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