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Stars: Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Aasif Mandvi, Dana Ivey, Bill Campbell, Kristen Wiig
Director: David Koepp
New York City is the town in question, and the ghosts are the souls of those with 'unfinished business' to settle. There don't seem to be that many of them, but it's more than enough for dentist Bertram Pincus (a first solo starring role for Gervais). Miserable, cold-natured and self-centred, Pincus is in hospital for a colon op, during which he dies for seven minutes.
'At St Vincent's we have a very strict 'three strikes' policy,' say the authorities, telling a horrified Pincus that they've fired the surgeon. And he's signed something that prevents him suing. Pincus' bleak mood is scarcely improved when he starts seeing the city's ghosts, each of them anxious for him to do them a favour and give them closure to their lives, sorry deaths.
One in particular (Kinnear) is particularly persistent. He wants Pincus (wasn't that the name of Judy Garland's dentist in the 1940s? Very obscure in-joke there) to prevent the impending marriage of his widow (Leoni) to a do-gooding lawyer. In return, the adulterous Kinnear, now suffering pangs of remorse, promises to remove all the ghosts from Pincus' world.
The widow's job as an archaeologist, currently preparing a tooth-decayed mummy for exhibition, gives Pincus a chance to stumblingly enter her life, and naturally he falls for her. Kinnear, to his dismay, refuses to help. 'You're a heartless son of a bitch,' he tells the dentist, 'who doesn't care about anyone but himself. She's already had one of those.'
Gervais' bumbling comic style is quite well suited to this role, and his droll delivery raises quite a few laughs. Leoni is excellent as always as the widow into whose confidence he slyly insinuates himself, and Alan Ruck is especially good as one of the ghosts. It's quite a sweet little film, in fact, which could do with a bit less sentiment in favour of the comedy, although jokes involving dentistry, a giant dog, and the private parts of the mummy all work well. Gervais' dental shift helps conceal the fact that he needs to lose a little weight to tackle any more romantic roles. Six and a half stars.
USA 2008. UK Distributor: Paramount (DreamWorks). Colour by deluxe.
102 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.
Review date: 18 Oct 2008