Byline: DEREK MALCOLM
Ghost Town Cert 12A, 105 mins ****
RICKY Gervais has already made his mark in America but this is the first time Hollywood, which hasn't quite known what to do with him until now, has discovered exactly what makes him such a formidable comedian.
David Koepp's movie may not be a laugh a minute and it may not be quite up to the mark of Topper, the supernatural screwball comedy which it seems to be imitating. But it is skilful and watchable enough to keep a persistent smile on the face of anyone who remembers the better flourishes of either David Brent or Andy Millman or even Cary Grant and Carole Lombard in Topper.
This time Gervais is Bertram Pincus, a transplanted and terminally grumpy British dentist in an autumnal New York. He stuffs dental equipment into the mouths of garrulous patients, sneaks out of the surgery when invited for drinks with his Indian partner who has just become a dad, and says that he doesn't mind crowds but finds the people in them extremely tiresome.
Bertram is, in fact, a socially inadequate loner but he just happens to be worried enough about his bowels to undertake a colonoscopy. The hospital, however, doesn't impress him. His surgeon (Kristen Wiig) is preoccupied with her fake tan as she helps wheel him into theatre, his male nurse looks like a callow intern just out of school and, when he wakes up from his routine op, he discovers that he has had a sevenminute near-death experience which the hospital fears will lead to a lawsuit.
When Bertram asks what happened to the anaesthetist he's told that he's no longer working at the hospital. "We have a very strict three strikes policy here," says his surgeon, unaware that she is hardly comforting him.
Meanwhile, we have already seen the second of the trio of stars in the picture.
He is Greg Kinnear, playing Frank, an erring businessman; T?a Leoni plays his unfortunate wife Gwen. Frank has narrowly avoided an outside air conditioner falling from an apartment block only to be smartly hit by a New York bus and instantly squashed.
This is where the film changes gear.
As Bertram leaves hospital he suddenly discovers that he is being chased by a ghostly Frank, along with several other phantom figures. When his own life was nearly cut short he developed the psychic ability to see them.
All of the ghosts want to explain themselves to their loved ones through his agency in order to rest in peace. …