Here’s a secret about the Big Apple you probably don’t know – the place is packed with is crowded with ghosts. This is the central premise of Ghost Town – a story that begins when Dr. Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais), a man whose people skills leave much to be desired, died unexpectedly. When Pincus expires during a routine medical procedure, but is miraculously revived after seven minutes, he wakes up to discover that he now has the unfortunate ability to see ghosts. Even worse, they all want something from him, particularly Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), a spectre who pesters him into joining a plan break up the impending re-marriage of his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni). With his entire world-view punctured in the wake of the near-death experience, Pincus has no choice but to accept the reality that he can see dead people – and literally can’t avoid them no matter where he goes. He has no choice but to interact with these persistent spirits, which opens him up to an even more frightening realization: the only way he’s going to get rid of these pesky poltergeists is to help them.
The intriguing concept for Ghost Town emerged from the mind of director and co-writer David Koepp, whose writing credits include classics like Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way, Panic Room and, most recently, the summer blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Koepp is also highly regarded for his creative handling of the eerie and occult, and admits the idea for the story came to him when he pondered the question: What’s the worst thing that can happen to a dedicated loner? Answer: to have tons of people suddenly have access to him anywhere, any time. And from that notion emerged the concept of the city of Manhattan as a “ghost town,” literally teeming with invisible, needy ghosts who normally can’t be seen by the living until, one day, something goes awry.
Looking for a character to pin the idea upon, Koepp looked to the lines of the Warren Zevon song, Splendid Isolation, in which a man says he wants to live on the Upper East Side and never go down on the street, and who decides to put tin foil on his windows so he never has to hear or to listen to people. A victim of heartache in the past, Pincus has now chosen the path of least contact with other human beings. A triple Golden Globe winner, two-time Emmy winner and seven-time BAFTA Award winner, Gervais has become known for his inimitable brand of self-mocking wit, which first came to the fore with the two standout TV series The Office and Extras. He has also written an episode of The Simpsons, penned a best-selling children’s book and taken small roles in feature films such as Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller. With Ghost Town, Gervais steps into his first feature film role as a comedic leading man, mining the humour of the uncomfortable and the awkward he delivered so tellingly in his hit television shows. “I think Pincus is a very human man in terms of his emotions, but he’s also a grumpy, wisecracking loner who thinks he prefers it that way, until his mind is changed,” Gervais says of the character. “Deep down, he might be a putz but he also has a good heart, one that can only be revealed if he meets the right person.” Ghost Town is a tonic of a film – even though many of the devices used are decades old and without any new angles added. With a good supporting cast, especially Kinnear as a Woody Allen type neurotic who contributes good chemistry, and the inspiring backdrop of Manhattan, thgye film sails away on a wave of good vibes that’ll have you rushing home to the Aer Lingus website in search of a cheap fare for the Christmas shopping. In the end, Gervais anchors the film with a knockout performance all the more effective for its understated delivery. We knew he’d be big after The Office – this is the start of that second career.