“You can trust me. I’m a dentist.”

I think Ghost Town is officially a flop. It barely cracked the top 10 in a weak week last, uh, week, and has completely dropped off the charts over the weekend. And that’s a shame, because it’s a solid comedy.

It’s a bit formulaic. Think Groundhog Day meets Ghost. Ricky Gervais is a misanthropic dentist–and let me interrupt here to say that all the dentists I’ve known have been wonderful, warm people–who wakes up after a colonoscopy (in which he demanded a general anaesthetic) with the ability to see dead people.

Dead people with needs.

Who annoy him.

My I say that I came up with this premise 20 years ago, but not having writer-director David Koepp’s connections I never could get the movie made?

Primary among the annoying dead people is the ever-smarmy Greg Kinnear. (Nobody does smarm like soup boy.) Kinnear is concerned that his ex-wife (on whom he was cheating) is about to marry a gold-digging…uh…civil rights attorney. He enlistst the reluctant Gervais’ help by promising to call off other dead people–he’s good at convincing people to do stuff–and it doesn’t hurt that Gervais is instantly attracted to Kinnear’s widow, Tea Leoni.

This movie works for a couple of reasons:

Koepp keeps things moving and doesn’t skimp on the jokes. (Some of them are so characteristic of the actors, particularly Gervais and KatherineKristen Wiig, that one senses perhaps some improv was done.) Koepp’s got a track record of under-appreciated movies: He wrote the script to Panic Room, wrote and directed Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes, and also wrote Death Becomes Her.) Or maybe all those movies sucked, and you wouldn’t like this either.)

Fun fact: Koepp is the douche who wrote War of the Worlds and paralleled the Martians to US troops in Iraq! Yes, I maintain that he’s both talented and a douche. Fortunately, this movie is apolitical.

The acting is top notch: Besides Gervais and Kinnear, Tea Leoni is really quite marvellous. I mean, really: She plays an odd Egyptologist with a fondness for lovingly detailed descriptions of mummification. If there’s a flaw there, it’s that it’s a little hard to imagine Kinnear’s smug narcissist hooking up with her.

Besides the three leads, there’s also Katherine Wiig as the surgeon. This chick is funny. I guess she’s on SNL but I know her primarily from Knocked Up, and she does a similar bit here trying to keep Gervais from suing the hospital. (I know her from something else, too, but I haven’t seen any of her other IMDB credits and her scenes were apparently cut from Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so I can’t recall what. UPDATE: Oh, yeah, I know her from the freakin’ Ghost Town commercials. I’m such a dingus.)

She gets a great assist in this scene from Michael-Leon Wooley as the hospital lawyer.

The ghosts play comic relief, mostly, but they also give the movie it’s final poignancy. Dana Ivey as a mother trying to reconcile her family, and Alan Ruck as the father trying to give his son some peace in a particularly poignant moment.

Fortunately, this all comes at the end, and avoids the mawkishness that occasionally bogs Groundhog Day.

Let’s see: Pacing, acting…I was going to mention a third thing here that makes this movie work, but I’ve forgotten what it is now. Damn my tangents.

Well, there’s some spectacular cinematography. New York hasn’t looked this gorgeous in years (at least in the movies). Uh. Hmmm.

OK: I laughed. I had a low chuckle going through most of the movie with some occasionally raucous outbursts. Ultimately, that’s “why” this worked for me. Little funny stuff, like Gervais’ awkward or jerky moments punctuated with knee slappers. Not quite rolling in the aisles, but still quite amusing.

The Boy laughed, too.

Altogether worthy of better box office than it’s getting. It’ll do better in England, I’d bet.

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