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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ghost Town

My Aunt Coral lived for over 50 years at the ocean near Old Orchard Beach, Maine, and she made quite a reputation locally as a psychic. She saw dead people everywhere. Of course so did anybody who spent 16 hours a day watching the Turner Classic Movies channel on tv. Coral often spent hours chatting with Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Clark Gable. She told me that Bogie is not happy with people today using the phrase “bogarting” stuff, and Marilyn is really annoyed with how people have made her out to be such a Kennedy tramp. Eventually, Coral’s neighbors took notice and started lining up to ask her to chat up their deceased relatives, so who was she not to give it a shot? Sometimes it even worked and she would end up talking to them, but not so much like “The Ghost Whisperer”. Coral was more of a “Ghost Nagger”, the type who would tell the ghosts she encountered to “go home and do something constructive ~ vacuum, do a dish, would it kill you to help out? Ha! Kill you? Get it? Your widow works like a shklaf (slave) because you didn’t leave her and the kids a little life insurance. What a shmuck! Oy!”

Eventually the ghosts quit coming around Aunt Coral because she was less help and more of a headache when it came to helping them resolve their unfinished business here on earth. The business dried up and she retired and moved to God’s Waiting Room, also known as Miami, where she sees dead people all the time now. At least I’m guessing she does since as soon as she stepped off the plane she got run over by the transport bus the airline uses to take passengers from the tarmac to the main terminal; she died at the scene. All I know for sure is that she ain’t seeing live ones anymore.

The movie
Ghost Town, now at the Essex Cinemas, reminds me a lot of Aunt Coral’s life, except she was never a dentist or half as nice as main character Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais; creator and star of the original UK version of “The Office”). He is about as nice as a pit-bull with an ulcer. Bertram is a total misogynist who has no friends and prefers it that way. When he is hospitalized for a routine medical procedure and it goes awry, he dies on the operating table for seven minutes before being revived, coming away from the experience with an unwanted “gift” that he soon discovers ~ he sees dead people everywhere.

It’s when they realize he can see them that his real trouble starts. They all want his help with wrapping up their unfinished business before they can (yes, here it comes) go into the light. Chief among these spirits is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear; Baby Mama), a less than stellar guy when he
was alive, who now wants to make sure the wife he cheated on doesn’t marry the man she is dating because he suspects the guy is trying to con her out of her money. He haunts Pincus mercilessly until the doughy dentist agrees to help break up the pair, but that is before Bertram knows the woman is his downstairs neighbor, Gwen (Téa Leoni; Fun with Dick and Jane), someone he has a long history of being rude or downright hostile to whenever they’ve met.

With a script by director David Koepp (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and co-author John Kamps (Zathura: A Space Adventure), most of the humor depends on just how funny you find Kinnear (sometimes), Leoni (never), and Gervais (usually), who are asked to milk a lot of laughs out of very little. The
recurring appearance of a naked ghost (Jeff Hiller; Adam), whose naughty bits seem to be situated dangerously close to someone’s face (even if they are invisible to all but Pincus), is a joke that is funny exactly once. After that, it loses its cache, kind of like Pincus’ constant ranting and swearing at some unseen spirit in front of the apartment building doorman (Miles Grose; The Return of Dolemite) , who naturally thinks his tenant is mad at him for no good reason. Yawn.

Of course, this being a Hollywood tale, Pincus has to become a better person before the end credits roll so he is bound to do what he can for Frank, even though it leads to a totally different conclusion than either of the men (living and dead) expect. He also realizes that the other ghosts begging for his help are not unreasonable in wanting his assistance and that if he can make their families happier somehow and facilitate the dead in their quest to find peace he ought to do it. This is when
Ghost Town turns into another episode of “The Ghost Whisperer” with special guest whisperer Ricky Gervais substituting for an AWOL Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Overall, Ghost Town isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t exactly the kind of film that is going to make anybody yearn for the opportunity to get in touch with their long lost friends or relatives. I know the only dead person I’ve wanted to talk to is my first husband. Unfortunately, he is still alive, but I keep hoping. When he does make it to “the other side” I want him to contact me just once ~ to complain about how hot it is where he ends up. Oh, and I’m definitely not talking Miami Beach, if you know what I mean. And maybe, just maybe, where he ends up there will be a 24 hour a day Téa Leoni film festival. That’ll teach him.

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