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Film / Ghost Town (2008)

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"Dr. Pincus, at some point in your life, you're gonna have to stop and ask yourself the ultimate question: 'This business of being such a fucking prick...what is it really getting me?'"

A 2008 supernatural Fantasy Comedy by writer/directer David Koepp and starring Ricky Gervais, Téa Leoni and Greg Kinnear.

After suffering a near death experience during routine surgery, where he was technically dead for 7 minutes (a bit less), misanthropic dentist Bertram Pincus (Gervais) begins seeing the ghosts of people who died with unfinished business. When the ghosts realize that Pincus can see them, they begin following him around, asking for his help in crossing over. He, of course, does his best to ignore them all, but one ghost in particular finally gets his attention: Frank Herlihy (Kinnear), who believes that if he can get Pincus to prevent his widow, Gwen (Leoni) from marrying a new guy that is completely wrong for her, he can finally cross over.

Not to be confused with the 1988 horror movie of the same name.

Ghost Town provides examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney: When Pincus returns to the hospital to find out if something went wrong with his surgery. He is taken to the surgeons where he is alone with her and a medical attorney and finds out that during his operation he was medically dead for ‘a bit less’ than seven minutes which they tried to hide. He then threatens to sue them and the Attorney tells him that he can’t as they got him to sign a document (when he was clearly still under the effects of the anesthetic) which makes them and the hospital not responsible and they are able to cover up their nearly fatal mistake, preventing Pincus from taking legal actionnote .
  • Back from the Dead: Twice, actually. The first time, Pincus had been clinically dead for a few minutes during his surgery at the start of the film. The second time, he is hit by a bus much like Frank at the start of the film, and is thankfully revived before he can be a ghost for good.
  • Bait-and-Switch: At first, the prologue implies Frank will die via falling air conditioner. Instead, it narrowly misses him and he marvels about how he survived! ...Except, he gets hit by a truck because he was standing in the middle of the road.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Big Friendly Dog: Gwen's Great Dane. Pincus remarks, "I like your horse!"
  • Blackmail: After learning that Pincus can see and speak with the dead, a bunch of ghosts proceed to follow and pester Pincus about their unfinished business, Frank also tries to get Pincus to help him and when Pincus refuses, Frank briefly attempts to blackmail him by threatening to keep finding Pincus and follow/harass him if he doesn’t, he then offers to get the other ghosts to leave him alone, this are what gets Pincus to finally begrudgingly agree.
    • When Pincus decides to quit being involved in frank’s plan to break up Gwen and Richard when he realises that Richard is good guy. Frank then threatens to make Pincus’s life “a living hell” however Pincus doesn’t change his mind.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: When Pincus sneaks out of the office after Dr. Prashar invites him to join the party that he and the other dentists are having to celebrate the birth of his daughter and looking at new baby photos, on the one hand its kind of understandable why Prashar would be a little upset when he spots Pincus sneak out of the building after he invited him, on the other it can seem a bit arrogant of him to think everyone of his colleagues including Pincus should be interested in his kid and want to look at her photos.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: Frank narrowly avoids getting crushed by a falling air conditioner, only to then get hit by a bus.
  • Comically Missing the Point: While giving his speech about the revelation he's had to Gwen, Pincus mentions the fact that when he was embalmed, the mummy Pepi's penis was put in a big jar, and rhetorically asks why the people who embalmed him would do that, meaning to get across that everything he was buried with was useless. Gwen says that his penis was put in a big jar because it was so large that it wouldn't have fit in a small jar.
  • Depraved Dentist: While certainly not sadistic or even malicious, Pincus wasn't winning any awards for his misanthropy and uncaring bedside manner at the start of the movie.
  • Dice Roll Death: Double-subverted. At the beginning, Frank dodges out of the way of a falling air conditioner... by unknowingly jumping into the street, where he promptly gets hit by a bus. See also Take a Moment to Catch Your Death, below.
  • Dr. Jerk: Pincus starts out as a rude, misanthropic dentist. He even claims he'd chosen the profession because most of the time patients have things in their mouths and thus can't talk with him (he's very annoyed when this isn't the case).
  • Escalating Chase: As he is leaving the hospital Pincus begins to build up a crowd of ghosts that realise he can see them that begin to follow and then chase after him until he loses them in Central Park.
  • Gag Penis: The Pharoah Pepi had a very large penis. Both Gwen and Pincus are much impressed with it. He makes several jokes and cracks her up.
  • Heel Realization: Frank spends almost the entire movie insisting that he wasn't that bad of a husband to Gwen, even though he cheated, and that her new fiancee, who is selfless and polite, must secretly be some kind of asshole. It's when Gwen pleadingly asks aloud why she wasn't enough for Frank that he went and cheated on her that he sees how badly he hurt her, and says that she wasn't the one who wasn't enough.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: One involves bouncing dog shit.
  • Insistent Terminology: Pincus was dead for a bit less than seven minutes.
  • I See Dead People: After he briefly died while having surgery, Pincus can see dead people. They harass him to help solve their unfinished business on learning this.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: The reason that Frank finally gets to rest in peace.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: The ghosts can't change their clothes from what they died in. Or put on any clothes if they died naked.note 
  • Jerkass: Pincus originally embodies this trope, before showing his true colors as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
    • Frank easily applies with his constant smarmy attitude as well as his frequent attempts to blackmail or manipulate people for his own means and the fact the he cheated on his wife, thankfully he has a Heel–Face Turn by the end.
  • Last-Name Basis: Pincus' first name is Bertram. Nobody calls him that, let alone "Bert" or something, only Pincus (frequently Dr. Pincus, since he's a dentist).
  • Left the Background Music On:
    • Pincus is being chased by a bunch of ghosts, accompanied by lively chase music; then they run past the street violinist who is providing it.
    • Later in the movie, he's coming clean to another character about the whole I See Dead People thing and the camera pans away to reveal that the drum music in the BGM is being played by a guy on a nearby park bench.
  • Look Both Ways: See Bait-and-Switch. Also provides the page image.
  • Love Triangle: A somewhat strange example, considering one of the three is dead. Also technically a "love quadrangle" if you count Gwen's new guy.
  • Meaningful Echo: The first time Pincus needs Frank's help to prove to Gwen he can speak to her husband, she asks him to relay a reoccurring dream he had when he was alive. Frank instead relays a false answer, telling him a generic nightmare about drowning, because he doesn't trust that Pincus will be a good boyfriend to Gwen. Later, when Frank starts to suspect that Pincus genuinely loves Gwen and has changed for the better, Frank tells him what the dream really is. Towards the end, Pincus relays that the dream was about Frank walking in the woods as a boy with his father, only to lose his father and be unable to return home. When Gwen asks what became of Frank's ghost, Pincus soberly answers "He found his way home."
  • Naked People Are Funny: The naked ghost.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer for this film makes the other "ghosts" into much more of the plot than they actually are. Aside from Frank of course, they're just there to mark Pincus's Character Development.
  • Noodle Incident: What was the deal with the naked guy?
  • Precision F-Strike: "Did you ever think about not being such a fucking prick all the time?"
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Ghosts remain in the clothes (or lack there of) they were wearing when they died, they can take mobile devices with them as Frank still had his Blackberry phone, people sneeze when they pass through them and people who have been medically dead but revived can see them.
  • Romantic Comedy: Subverted. For a time, the movie progresses like a quirky but typical romantic comedy with supernatural elements - Pincus meets Gwen while just trying to deal with her ex-husband, but falls in love with her, starts a relationship based on a lie and has to deal with her perfect boyfriend, etc. However, after the point where he has to reveal the truth the movie suddenly takes a hard right into being about Pincus becoming a better person rather than their relationship, with his treatment of Gwen being one consequence of that. In the end the movie leaves it entirely up in the air whether Pincus and Gwen get together or not.
  • Romantic False Lead: Played with. Gwen's new guy is an example of over the top perfection. Frank insists that he must be secretly evil, but it turns out to really be his jealousy and insecurity talking. After falling for her Pincus decides she doesn't really love him, and while they do break up we last see him while saving Pincus' life he's attempting to reconcile with her. The last scenes don't confirm one way or another whether he and Gwen worked things out.
  • Running Gag: Every time someone walks through a ghost, they sneeze. This gets extreme when Pincus must traverse an entire room full of ghosts, trying to get away from them all.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: What happened to Frank. He narrowly misses getting his skull caved in by a falling air conditioner. While he's marveling about this, he's hit by a bus.
  • Undignified Death: Pincus acquired his ability to see the dead due to a near-death experience... during a colonoscopy.
  • Unfinished Business: Why Pincus is seeing all these ghosts. They all have some Unfinished Business that they needed to take care of—something that they didn't do or say. After Pincus helps them, they disappear. He eventually figures out that it typically has less to do with the ghost themselves and more with the people still living who won't let them go.