I was curious to see this film because — between the handsome ghost (Greg Kinnear) running around in a tux and the high-concept premise — the ads gave me the feel of an old movie.
And watching it, it feels that way. Events unspool at a very comfortable pace to complete a classic plot. A third of the way into it, I hadn’t seen anything I hadn’t already gotten from the promotional material. That’s the point at which dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) has gone in for a colonoscopy, temporarily died, discovered he sees ghosts, and finally agrees to help Kinnear keep his widow (Tea Leoni) from marrying a loser. (Well, he thinks the human rights lawyer played by Bill Campbell is wrong for her. I’m not so sure.) But that’s ok — it’s not about what happens (which we all know to hope for) but about how the characters get there. And there are a couple of surprises along the way.
I blush to admit that I’ve never seen The Office, either version, but I’ve liked Gervais’ professional grump when I’ve seen him in other things. (OK, Night at the Museum.) Here, he’s a people-hating loner, but what the actor does well is not make us feel sorry for him. He’s lonely, although he doesn’t know it, but not a desperate loser. He’s a complex person. The role looks like it would be very easy to play (but it wouldn’t be, really), a tribute to Gervais’ performance. Kinnear also has a tough job here, since the first thing we know about his character is that he’s a foul-mouthed adulterer. And yet, still charming.
I wanted to know more about all the other ghosts, who carry their stories in their appearances. Some of them seem like they’d be more worthwhile cases than Kinnear’s possessive jerk. The material is very familiar, but the relaxed pacing is a pleasant change, Gervais’ lead character type a unusual choice, the New York scenery lovely, and the performances well-done. The humor doesn’t scream “look at me” but the one-liners and situations can be quite funny. Also enjoyable: the use of the Beatles song “I’m Looking Through You”.
The official website has the trailer and more information about the movie. Special features include commentary by Gervais and co-writer/director David Koepp, a making-of (23 min.), short clips showing the ghost effects (2 min.), and a gag reel (8 min.). Strangely, although they’re on the promo site, the film’s trailer and TV spots aren’t included on the disc, although ads for other movies are.
I started off saying that this reminded me of an older film, and I’ve figured out why. It’s about the problems and concerns of mature people, aimed at an audience older than the usual target teen, with an approach that rewards patience and thought and a message about living through loss that the young won’t be able to appreciate as much. It’s a film made for adults, and that’s rare these days. I applaud that. I recommend a triple feature with Kiss Me Goodbye and Truly Madly Deeply.