***/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras A
starring Ricky Gervais, Téa Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Billy Campbell
screenplay by David Koepp & John Kamps
directed by David Koepp
by Walter Chaw It's appropriate that at the end of these cycles of films portraying New York as a convalescence ward (25th Hour, In the Cut, Synecdoche, New York, Hellboy II), we have a movie like David Koepp's Ghost Town that literalizes our wounded Metropolis as a graveyard. The picture joins Hancock among the year's more pleasant surprises, both loaded as they are with small payloads packed with little, unexpected explosions of pathos and intimate observation. Koepp's hyphenate stints (Stir of Echoes, Secret Window) have tended towards the supernatural by way of private dislocations, his spooks the manifestation of things left too long in the underneath. No less so Ghost Town, wherein asshole dentist Pincus (Ricky Gervais) survives a near-death colonoscopy only to find himself capable of conversing with the dearly departed--at least, those still tied to loved ones incapable of letting them go. Groundwork for a clumsy bit of pretentious tripe, no question, but Koepp lightens his avowed affection for overreaching by striving no farther than romantic-comedy rewards, balancing them with an admirable amount of leash turned over to Gervais's acerbic improvisations. It's interesting that the traditionally charming characters are cast as irritants or cads, their social facility viewed as defense mechanisms. Suddenly, the dental X-rays that unspool beneath the opening credits make perfect sense; Ghost Town is partly about a suspicion of surfaces.