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Ghost Town

Ricky Gervais steps out of 'The Office' for new comedy

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GENRE: Supernatural rom-com

THE PITCH: Misanthropic dentist Bertram Pincus ("The Office's" Ricky Gervais) has a near-death experience and then discovers that he can talk to ghosts, including a pushy jerk named Frank (Greg Kinnear) who wants to scuttle the remarriage of his widow, Gwen (Téa Leoni). It's like The Sixth Sense meets Ghost on Groundhog Day.

MONEY SHOTS: The running gag that the living sneeze whenever they unwittingly walk through the dead. The fake-out in Frank's fatal accident. The ghostly mob that chases Pincus through New York. Nothing's cheaper than dog reaction shots, but there's a funny moment with Gwen lying on her back, brushing a Great Dane's teeth.

BEST LINE: Pincus' surgeon ("Saturday Night Live's" amusing Kristen Wiig) explains that the hospital fired the anesthesiologist who accidentally gave him an overdose: "At St. Vincent's, we have a very strict 'three strikes' policy."

WORST LINE: "That little Grinch heart of yours started beating, and you want to go back to your cave and smash it with a rock," Frank nags Pincus, hitting the film's unsubtle do-unto-others theme.

BODY COUNT: Most of the supporting characters (including Alan Ruck and Dana Ivey) are dead, but it's not like they're rotting. Two surprise traffic accidents offer the film's most conspicuous violence. A realistic mummy serves as an unlikely prop when Gwen and Pincus flirt. (If nothing else, writer/director David Koepp gets props for doing his mummy homework.)

FLESH FACTOR: The spirits manifest in the clothes they wore at the time of death, so one of Pincus' ghosts is a tall, strategically concealed naked guy (Jeff Hiller). Leoni shows off her muscle tone in a sleeveless, backless gown at a fancy museum opening.

MP3-TO-BE: The Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You" puns on the premise of the ghosts' invisibility. Most of the soundtrack emphasizes sensitive-guy rock from the likes of Wilco, John Mayer and Brendan Benson, dampening the film's comedic spirits.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Nagging questions haunt Ghost Town, such as "Wouldn't it be funnier if Kinnear and Gervais, cast against type, switched roles?" and "Should you really spend a rom-com hoping the guy doesn't get the girl?" Pincus' ubiquitous dental smock might as well be a straightjacket, constraining Gervais from his nasty forte as a comic actor. Despite its talented players, Ghost Town's funny potential fades away.

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