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Simon thinks this town is coming like a GHOST TOWN...

I have an apology to make. During my review of HANCOCK I suggested that Jason Bateman was the American Ricky Gervais: by inference a man devoid of any acting diversity. What can I say€? NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM and STARDUST had me believing that Gervais could only play a David Brent style, arrogant, self-involved narcissist- a sort of grotesque version of the actor himself (we need only look at any behind-the-scenes footage of his hilariously immature behaviour). But having sat down and watched his subtle, pathos-laden performance in GHOST TOWN, I would like to retract my former statement. The performance still features the familiar hallmarks of Gervais€™ comedy thankfully; the misplaced flashes of self-assurance, the near sociopathic social awkwardness and the genuine likeability factor no matter how devoid of grace his character might be. M Night Shyamalan fans out there (if there are any of you left) will no doubt be experiencing Déjà vu- the presence of ghosts, their insistent requests for help from a seemingly unsuitable and reluctant living conduit. But despite the similarities this is definitely not THE SIXTH SENSE: this tale of a British misanthropic dentist, who develops the ability to see ghosts after dying on the operating table at the hands of a seriously under-qualified surgery team, is far more about the complexities of humanity than of the supernatural. And there is a gentle comedy that runs throughout that simply would not sit well with its darker cousin or with that other generic stable-mate GHOST. As with everything, GHOST TOWN is all about balance- writer/director David Koepp manages to blend barbed comedy with touching pathos, largely thanks to the irresistible and eminently watchable dynamics between the three major players Gervais, Leoni and Kinnear. Leoni in particular is excellent, and you have to wonder just why her star hasn€™t ever really shone as brightly as it deserves- as sometimes bumbling archaeologist Gwen she is the perfect antithesis for both Kinnear€™s arrogant philanderer and Gervais€™ cringe-making misanthrope. GHOST TOWN is your typical three person comedy- something that Koepp frequently alludes to in the Commentary- albeit with a slightly different backdrop. What becomes very obvious as the film progresses is the fact that the idea of ghosts, and of Pincus€™ interaction with them serves merely to furnish the situational comedy of the three major relationships in the film- between Pincus, Frank and Gwen. It is an approach that must be applauded as too many comedies these days attempt to substitute plot and proper character development with full-on belly laughs or €œlarger than life€ characters (a condition that is to blame for the appallingly regrettable existence of the Friedberg/Seltzer stable of films), and manage only to produce an empty 90 minute vehicle for some jokes that have no memorable legacy due to their lack of context. GHOST TOWN is a world apart from this universe thankfully, in fact you would struggle to remember many belly-laugh moments, but the film conjures an enduring smile that barely drops throughout. GHOST TOWN harks back to the Golden Age of cinema, the importance thrust upon character and dialogue (even if it is a little lacking at times), rather than pomp and circumstance. It is precisely why, despite it being a film about ghosts, there are only two or three special effects of note- including the exceptional opening sequence- and those are unavoidable narrative steps (one being the pay-off as Frank realises he is a ghost, and the other being the first ghost that Pincus is really aware of). Aside from the trio of major players, GHOST TOWN has an excellent peripheral cast, headed admirably by the always hilarious Kristen Wiig, playing the bungling surgeon who almost turns Pincus€™ run-of-the-mill colonoscopy into an early dinner date with the reaper. The setting itself also plays as important a part in the film; the major events all play out against recognisable New York landscapes and the lingering shots of the impressive skyline play a fitting love song to the city. I still find it amusing to see Gervais as a bona fide leading man in Hollywood- he is after all the antithesis of everything Tinsel town usually goes for. Okay so he was a beautiful man in the eighties, during his ill-fated stint in the music business (managing Suede up to the point they were signed and doing his best David Bowie impression as one part of Seona Dancing). But the ravages of time haven€™t necessarily been so kind to Mr Gervais; there are a few too many droops in the jowls, a little too much junk in the trunk- Brad Pitt he clearly aint. And from everything I€™ve seen of his €œmethod€ and his work ethic, Gervais seems more content with sabotaging shots either intentionally or with that ridiculously infectious laugh of his. Yet, here he is. It is refreshing to see Gervais cast as a love interest in a mainstream Hollywood rom-com: something I initially found rather disturbing and more than a little perplexing, especially given that Tea Leoni was the play the yin to his yang. It isn€™t just that he doesn€™t necessarily fit the aesthetic bill; Gervais€™ comedy is largely devoid of the kind of uplifting schmaltz that is the usual currency of the Hollywood rom-com. The one great love-story of THE OFFICE was one fraught with disappointment and pathos, even pain: you just don€™t get the same level with SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE or WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. The flawed characters he creates are also often difficult to like initially- Bertram Pincus is antisocial, misanthropic, abrasive, self-destructive and a little creepy- but as with all Gervais characters he retains a certain spark of humanity, his pathos ensuring he does not ever wander too far past the line of acceptance. The merit of casting such an obviously out of left field lead man is evident in the role that Gervais€™ idiosyncrasies and his subtle brand of hyper-ironic comedy plays in stopping the film from slipping into Hollywood schmaltz mode. How easily this film could have fallen victim to Tinsel town€™s all-encompassing sense of sentimentalism were it not for the occasional dalliances into absurdity and irreverence. But it is not only Gervais who carries that can- the final sequence from Pincus€™ moment of revelation to the closing exchange between Gwen and Pincus is wonderfully written, and flies in the face of those critics who initially sneered at the film on its release. The touching twist on the traditional unfinished business rule of ghosts and the unexpected twist in Pincus€™ own tale add further golden touches to a script that Koepp and co-writer John Kamps should be very proud of for the most part. GHOST TOWN has reaffirmed what I already knew: I€™m a massive Ricky Gervais fan- his stand-up comedy and the legendary podcasts are impeccable, THE OFFICE is still the most important British comedy of the last ten years and EXTRAS almost scaled the same heights again. His new-found association with the €œBig Boys€ almost gives me confidence in the world again, and I thank God that he is being given the opportunity to inject his writing talent into the industry, rather than just being thrown the occasional cameo or appearance on the Simpsons or Sesame Street. I couldn€™t be happier to see Gervais being given the chance to spread his wings across the pond, and the prospect of his directorial debut proper THIS SIDE OF THE TRUTH next year is getting more and more appealing. So here€™s to you Mr Gervais, and long may it continue. EXTRAS For anyone who has listened to any of Gervais€™ podcasts, the commentary by Koepp and Gervais will spark familiar feelings- while it lacks any real cinematic substance, and offers no real insight into the making of the film, the commentary is genuinely funny. The matey feel to it is familiar also, but what shines through most obviously is Gervais€™ own character and the irreverence of his acting method: you can€™t help but feel that even he is surprised by his assault on Hollywood. The only other really notable Extra feature, besides an insight into the way the special effects were accomplished, is a collection of Gervais€™ corpsing moments, which I personally found it extremely difficult not to laugh along with. On the evidence of this though, you have to wonder whether Hollywood will really put up with the sabotaging man-child that is Ricky Gervais for a sustained career.

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