Ghost Town
At Quality 16 & Showcase
2 out of 5 stars

Not unlike a long-term relationship that is going nowhere, the romantic comedy genre has slipped into a rut. There’s no real reason to stop seeing these films, but then, is there any good reason to continue making them? It’s almost as if some bigwig in Hollywood has passed out a “How To” manual regarding the steps to a successful “rom-com.” It has Kate Hudson (or really any sort of bubbly blonde will do), a goofy, but still attractive, leading man, a wacky misunderstanding and, finally, a climatic make-out scene, preferably while “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” plays in the background. Every once in a while a gem slips through — yeah, people are still hating on “Juno,” but no one can deny the end product was one cute love story — and faith is somewhat restored in the whole genre. It’s too bad that “Ghost Town” isn’t one of those fortunate few.

With Ricky Gervais (TV’s “Extras”) playing the romantic male lead, it’s not too outrageous to assume the filmmakers intend to tell an atypical love story. Gervais has a knack for comedy, and British humor is apparently quite amusing for us Yankees, but he’s not George Clooney. A little portly, a little short and, for a dentist, equipped with surprisingly bad teeth, Gervais’ Bertram Pincus is not only unremarkable in looks, but completely intolerable in personality. Pincus has a brief brush with death that results in his gaining ability to see the ghosts that wander New York City, specifically the recently deceased Frank (Greg Kinnear, “Baby Mama”), who enlists Pincus to save his widow from her fiancé.

It has promising actors and a somewhat interesting concept (“Sixth Sense,” now with 100 percent more romance!) but still, the film fails to impress. “Ghost Town” tries to promote the use of Gervais as a creative choice for a romantic lead, but Judd Apatow has already cornered that niche with his own schlub-falls-in-love movies. It’s no longer that surprising to find someone other than Dr. McDreamy winning the girl in the end — we get it Hollywood, ugly people deserve love too. It’s not that Gervais makes an unappealing love interest. He does a fine job depicting Pincus’s move from extreme misanthrope to a somewhat endearing underdog character. But it’s been done before, and it’s been done better.

The film doesn’t shy away from borrowing other trite plot devices and characters. Aasif Mandvi (TV’s “The Daily Show”) is the victim of the always unnecessary “If you’re not white, you’re a terrorist” joke and otherwise is completely underutilized. Billy Campbell (TV’s “The 4400”) is another flat character, existing simply as a tall, good-looking foil to Pincus. A cameo that fares far better is Kristin Wiig (TV’s Saturday Night Live) as a surgeon. Her ten or so minutes on screen actually contain as many laughs, if not more, than the rest of the film.

Overall, “Ghost Town” isn’t a bad film; it’s simply not as good as the film it aspired to be. Putting aside the “I see dead people” concept, the film is actually a pretty straightforward depiction of how two people might happen to fall in love. Perhaps that’s what doesn’t work.

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