During one pivotal moment of revelation in David Koepp's Ghost Town, dentist and insufferable prick Bertram Pincus (brilliantly played by Ricky Gervais) gazes at a poster of Albert Einstein with the quote, "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." And, though Pincus cynically dismisses the quote for its inauspicious placement on a novelty poster, it becomes immediately apparent to the viewer watching the film that Ghost Town is, in fact, the feature-length incarnation of one of those inspirational posters that clutter the bargain bins of drugstores everywhere. Sure, it's told with a little more style, a tad more wit, and a genuinely satisfying dash of soul, but at its heart, Ghost Town is a essentially a two-hour filmed version of that very Einstein poster that later prompts the misanthropic Pincus to finally step outside of his comfort zone and realize that the rest of the world doesn't exist simply as an excuse for him to stay locked away in his posh Manhattan apartment chugging laxatives and cursing society.
Ghost Town may not be the most original comedy product ever presented to moviegoers -- after all we've seen essentially the same story played out over the years in everything from A Christmas Carol to As Good As It Gets, but it does deliver its message in such a pleasant and entertaining manner that even moviegoers as jaded as Pincus himself are likely to walk out of the theater feeling just a little better than they did before, cranky from contending with the crowd at the concession stand and navigating dark theater aisles in an attempt to find a comfortable seat. And while director and co-writer (alongside John Kamps) Koepp can't be denied credit for making this familiar story not feel like so much regurgitated, feel-good gruel, it's no doubt star Gervais -- and his chemistry with co-stars Greg Kinnear and Téa Leoni -- that keeps the film feeling consistently fresh and enjoyable.
It would be easy to despise Gervais' antisocial jerk had the character been played by a less talented actor, but thanks to the talented British comic, Bertram Pincus is entirely sympathetic upon closer inspection -- the kind of reclusive loner we've all known a some point in our lives, an endearing social misfit who's actually quite a cutup on the rare occasion his friends are able to drag him out of his isolated comfort zone and into the real world. Anyone who's ever dreaded going to that upcoming party or social function rather than enjoying a quiet evening at home is sure to identify with Pincus -- even if they themselves may not be quite so vocal about their general distain for humanity -- and that identification is the key to making or breaking a film like Ghost Town.
So while it may be neither a highly original masterpiece nor the laugh-out-loud, joke-a-minute riot that sends crowds stumbling into the streets giddy with laughter, Ghost Town is still a passable piece of feel-good fluff that accomplishes the thankless task of delivering a positive message at a time when most movies -- comedy or otherwise -- seem more interested in upping the outrageous ante than in taking the time to tell a genuinely affecting story from a universally humanistic perspective. Does that make Ghost Town old-fashioned? Unquestionably. Is the mood-boost worth cutting the film a little slack? Absolutely. There are far worse sins a movie can commit than being unoriginal, and thankfully for Gervais fans, Ghost Town still manages to charm despite the occasional sense of déjà vu.