I suppose it come as no surprise that the first Ricky Gervais headlined film to hit the States fared poorly. Although critics loved the film, the modest budgeted film limped by in theaters, leaving with only $13 million in the States, and raking in only another $10 million overseas. It’s a shame more people weren’t aware of this moving and hilarious film, as it was one of the years more unique outings. No doubt that the film will find a larger audience on home video, however, but fans of Gervais who were hoping to see more of him in films that weren’t just short cameos are no doubt disappointed by this films performance.
A spirited romantic comedy, Ghost Town is the story of Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais), a cranky Manhattan dentist who develops the unwelcome ability to see dead people. Really annoying dead people. But, when a smooth-talking ghost (Greg Kinnear) traps Bertram into a romantic scheme involving his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni), they are entangled in a hilarious predicament between the now and the hereafter!
I wasn’t sure going into this film how Gervais was going to the play the role; if his past roles in…well, mostly everything he’s ever been in were any indication then he’d play some sort of jerk who really means well. In the case of this film, however, he really just played a jerk for the first hour of it, before finally turning another leaf and becoming someone who genuinely wanted to help individuals. It’s a touching story, but I must warn those of you who are going into this film without any conception of who Gervais is or his comedy style. He’s an abrasive comic who really has no knack for subtly in his humor, which is what makes almost everything he does so flat-out hilarious, so don’t be too turned off by him from the get go. So that’s my message to those who don’t know of him; to those that do…well, you’re likely going to love this film.
Obviously it’s a romantic comedy, not something we have enough of these days. Actually, what I should have said is that this is a good romantic comedy, which really is something we don’t get enough of. Honestly there is just as much appeal in this film for both sides of the gender aisle to enjoy as there is plenty of touching and humorous sequences that never drift into either camp too far. Largely speaking the humor of this film stems from physical reactions and stumbled dialogue, all of which comes from Gervais most of the time as he interacts with those around him. In fact, there are few laughs in this film that don’t come from Gervais and the only ones that really do are a few chuckles from Kinear, while Aasif Mandvi, of The Daily Show fame, steals the rest as Gervais’s colleague. While Mandvi’s role is minor, his talk with Gervais towards the end of the film is priceless and the delivery of the attitude-changing line is absolutely hilarious.
But, humor is only one part of the romantic comedy genre. This other side is gently woven throughout it and while you don’t necessarily believe right away that Gervais and Leoni would be an actual couple, part of the films charm comes from Gervais trying to win her over. Not only that but the genuine affection he feels for her is something that can only be categorized as “sweet” and will likely have a few smiling over it. Kinnear’s role makes little impact here, as he comes off as a pompous ass from the get go and it isn’t until he finally departs do we actually feel any real sorrow for his character.
In the end the film itself is touching and well worth watching, even if you’re unfamiliar with Gervais. Technically speaking it’s a rather weak affair when it comes to star power, as Kinnear and Leoni aren’t exactly on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days, but while the film would have benefited in the box office with bigger names, I honestly think every actor involved in this film was cast just fine. There honestly isn’t any real weak points of the film to pick at, although the ending does feel a bit…strange in its execution, especially with the eventual and unnecessary feeling dissention between Gervais and Leoni’s characters, but I suppose it helped fill the necessary drama quota.
Overall Ghost Town isn’t your typical romantic comedy since it’s not really going to lean into any one gender specifically, but it comes Recommended. Gervais can definitely be a bit off putting and seeing him in a romantic comedy definitely felt a bit weird after seeing him in The Office and Extras for so long, but it really was an enjoyable film from beginning to end. Plus, lately I’m of the mind that anything Kristen Wiig appears in will make you laugh by proxy.
Ghost Town arrives on Blu-ray in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with a coupon for so much off other Paramount DVD/Blu-ray’s. Like Eagle Eye, however, the coupon is on the outside of the set, so you don’t even need to buy it to use it, you can merely tear it off if you’re feeling a bit thievish. Disc art is the usual Paramount gray wash, while the only insert is one to tell you to keep your player’s firmware up-to-date.
Video arrives in an AVC encoded 1.85:1 video transfer and if you thought a romantic comedy couldn’t blow you away with its visuals, think again. While its true most of the video here is pretty generic stuff, although clean and clear, it’s the shots of New York that really astound. There is a gorgeous time lapse shot of New York that is absolutely jaw-dropping and seeing it in 1080p makes it even more impressive. Easily the greatest looking romantic comedy I’ve ever seen on Blu-ray (though, granted, that field is pretty slim). The audio arrives with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that really doesn’t do a whole lot, with impressive clarity in the front end, but the film is neither heavy in soundtrack usage nor surrounds, so don’t expect to hear Gervais invade your personal space with a ton of surround sounds. Also included are French and Spanish DD5.1 tracks, as well as English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Moving onto the extras we don’t get a huge crop, but for a relatively small film I didn’t expect a whole lot. It’s nice that all of the extras are in HD and, once again, Paramount left the “Special Features are presented in Standard Definition (except where noted HD) and are not rated” tag on the package despite none of them being in SD. In a surprising twist, they are actually all full 1080p as well, so no 1080i content here to look at either.
The first extra up is a Commentary by David Koepp and Ricky Gervais that is highly entertaining and well worth a listen, especially for Gervais fans. The two have great chemistry with one another and are clearly comfortable to tell stories and pat each other’s backs as they talk about the production of the film, so it makes for a very comfortable and lighthearted track. Moving on we have a Making of (22:40) that has plenty of cast and crew interviews and Ghostly Affects (2:01) which shows some of the CGI work done for the film. Honestly I thought the opening ghost effects were pretty atrocious, as Kinnear and the rest of the crew clearly looked like they were on a green screen, but the later effects in the film didn’t look nearly as bad. Finally there’s a hilarious Some People Can Do It (6:21), which is mostly just Gervais cracking up and letting loose with that laugh of his.
Overall a good release for a solid film; the commentary is what really sells the package and without it I doubt I would have been so satisfied with the extras on this release, but as a package it’s quite the entertaining array of goodies. Recommended.
Ghost Town is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.