- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

“Ghost Town” is a perfectly acceptable, entirely generic romantic comedy; there are enough laughs to keep the audience entertained and nothing terribly heavy to weigh down the rest of the evening.

Ricky Gervais stars as Dr. Bertram Pincus, a dentist with misanthropic tendencies. All he wants is to be left alone, but he has a small problem: He’s the only one who can see the ghosts hovering around New York City, and they all need something from him.

First among equals is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), a smarmy jerk of a ghoul who wants Dr. Pincus to bust up his widow Gwen’s (Tea Leoni) impending nuptials. After a few wacky tries at getting to know Gwen, Dr. Pincus soon scores some alone time with her and, shockingly, falls in love. Hilarity ensues as he first tries to break up Gwen’s relationship, then decides she deserves to be happy, then pursues her again after she breaks up with her fiance.

The best moments come early in the film, when Mr. Gervais brings his innate contempt for humanity to the fore. Kristen Wiig of “Saturday Night Live” is incredibly funny as the surgeon who performs Dr. Pincus’ colonoscopy and has to inform him that he died ever-so-briefly on the operating table. Her timing and mannerisms are the perfect complement to Mr. Gervais.

The rest of the cast is equally good: Mr. Kinnear is a natural as the self-absorbed ghost; Miss Leoni is perfect as a slightly nerdy Egyptologist; Alan Ruck brings heart to his role as a ghost dad who wants to help his family move on.

If “Ghost Town” has one major problem, it’s that the emotional payoffs aren’t earned; they just happen. When Gwen’s engagement falls apart, for example, it happens off-screen and with little warning, serving as nothing more than a plot point to move things along.

Also, once Dr. Pincus realizes he must help the ghosts around him instead of ignoring them, we see a quick montage of scenes in which he eases their pain. I guess it was touching, but it felt rushed.

Nevertheless, “Ghost Town” is funny and moves along briskly, fulfilling the two most important qualities of a romantic comedy. Those in search of a date movie will have few better options this week.

★★★

TITLE: “Ghost Town”

RATING: PG-13 (Some strong language, sexual humor and drug references)

CREDITS: Directed by David Koepp, written by David Koepp and John Kamps

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

WEB SITE: www.ghosttownmovie.com/#/home

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS