Back in the glory days of DVD releases, comedy films could coast along on a light and snappy photograph of the protagonist alongside a quick quip that summarises the movie. “He sees dead people… and they annoy him.” is the line Ghost Town goes for. No point in going back to the drawing board when the funniest sentence uttered anywhere close to the film is slapped front and centre on the box. There is much to be said for the quality of work Ricky Gervais put out during his time in the Hollywood machine. Some part of me believes it is because the studios had no idea what to do with him, and could not find him a competent vehicle to utilise in time. A larger part of me feels it is more than that, though.
While the biggest blow, shamefully, is that Gervais is not present in the writer’s room, it beckons the question of his strengths as a material writer in the first place. His other opportunities during this time, namely The Invention of Lying and Special Correspondents a near-decade later, are underwhelming bouts of competency. The former at least had an interesting premise, but off-key jokes and the mishandling of the material is as much to blame as the performer at the heart of it. Ghost Town suffers much the same issue as The Invention of Lying. Stepping out the way of a falling fan, Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) is hit by a bus, in a style reminiscent of Final Destination. Here, the difference is The Beatles on the soundtrack and the nonplussed reaction from Kinnear.
It is not dismay or fear that captures him, but a general annoyance. Such annoyance of death could not be handled worse, or you would at least assume so until Gervais appears. Bertram Pincus (Gervais) is the sort of character better suited to a spoof of an old Woody Allen picture. He is in Manhattan, he is miserable, and his character is obsessed with death. One of the many stark differences between the two, though, is how they both hold a presence in front of a camera and how they interact with supporting characters. You do not need to hear the dialogue or see the characters to know who will go where and why, but it is the journey there that proves most interesting. Or at least, momentarily fascinating, for Ghost Town. Pincus is a horrid beast of a man, his love of order and perfection no substitute for a fulfilling and friend-filled life. Where Allen pulls these neuroses off as giddy bits of comedy in the hopes of finding that future someone, Pincus is too obsessed with downing laxatives in the hopes of destroying himself.
That is a solid sentiment to leave Ghost Town with, a film with all the effects of a laxative. It will cleanse the system of quality or gunk. Its nothingness will flow through with all the ideal evacuation necessary. Sometimes a hard reset of culture is necessary, and it is where Ghost Town serves its purpose. Very bland stuff, the dry humour of Gervais does not translate well to what Americans wish to do with him. Nothing much is what they appear to be serving him, yet he has no alternative or solution to this lack of quality. A handful of lines here, a couple of moments there, and it all comes to an end before you know it. You will leave feeling empty, but that is the effect of a laxative such as Ghost Town.