Not everyone is a "people person." Take Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais). He's a dentist, and he likes the fact that dental implements keep people from talking. With an office next to his apartment building, he merely moves a couple hundred feet and hardly sees a soul. But things change.
A routine medical procedure evokes a near-death experience, and Bertram consequently has run-ins with lots of people in unexpected ways: He sees dead people. Ghosts, if you will. And they can find him day or night.
Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) is a ghost. He lingers, as all ghosts do, on earth with unfinished business. Frank's involves his wife, Gwen (Tea Leoni), and her desire to remarry. Frank is convinced that Gwen's fiancé, Richard (Ben Campbell), is a bad guy, so Frank asks Bertram to break up the relationship. In return, Frank promises to get the ghosts to leave Bertram alone.
The problem is that Bertram lives in the same building as Gwen. And Bertram is, as most anti-people people are, not nice. He steals her cab in the middle of a downpour, refuses to hold the elevator for her, etc.
Having been a jerk to Gwen, he ultimately decides the best way to end her relationship with Richard is to woo her away. This causes comic sparks as we watch Bertram try to turn on the charm while still being a person who hates people. But Bertram has an edge: inside information from Frank about Gwen.
"Ghost Town," written and directed by David Koepp ("Jurassic Park," "Spider-Man"), has a lot going for it. First, it's set in New York City during the fall, which makes for some wonderful visuals. But there's more here than a pretty picture.
Our times tempt us to cocoon, to pull the layers of self around us and squeeze others out. "Ghost Town" asks us to determine if there really are any other people in our lives.
Ralph Neighbor observed that we tend to categorize the people who walk through our lives. There are service people, who wait on us; landscape people, who inhabit the background of life. Then there are the people people—the people we truly care about in life. What do the people in our lives really mean to us? That's the question asked by "Ghost Town" with a sense of wit and underlying wisdom.
In his book, The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch quoted Jon Snoddy from Disney Imagineering. Jon said, "If you wait long enough, people will surprise and impress you." This movie asks us to wait on people, both figuratively and literally. If you wait, people will act in a way that will surprise and not just impress you, but also enrich you.
This is the sort of movie that the longer I reflect on it, the more I enjoy it. It equals something greater than the sum of its parts. Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear and Tea Leoni all are wonderful in their roles. The script from Koepp and John Kamps is urbane and whimsical, but with a sweet treatment of a universal question involving our connectedness to each other.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references.
Director: David Koepp
Writers: David Koepp & John Kamps
Cast: Bertram Pincus: Ricky Gervais; Frank Herlihy: Greg Kinnear; Gwen: Tea Leoni; Dr. Prashar: Aasif Mandvi; Ghost Dad: Alan Ruck; Marjorie Pickthall: Dana Ivey; Richard: Ben Campbell.
The movie's official Web site is here.