It takes an awful lot of effort for a contemporary comedy to win an audience back after opening with yet another "Holy crap, that guy just got hit by a bus!" scene, but Ghost Town perseveres, and eventually emerges as a likeable time-waster, albeit more sweet than funny. The bus-victim in Ghost Town's opening scene is Greg Kinnear, a stock "asshole New York businessman" who's working on buying a love-nest for his mistress when the city's mass-transit system gets the better of him. Now reduced to quietly haunting ex-wife Téa Leoni, Kinnear sees a ray of hope when he meets a living man who can talk to the dead, and potentially help Kinnear sort out his unfinished business on earth. The problem? The ghost-talker is irascible dentist Ricky Gervais, who wants nothing to do with the legion of spirits who've been hassling him ever since a near-death experience gave him the gift.
Pretty much everything about this afterlife comedy is straight-from-the-shelf save for Gervais, typically hilarious as a misanthrope who organizes his work and his private life so he doesn't have to talk to anyone. Predictably, Gervais becomes smitten with Leoni while trying to get Kinnear off his back, and once the romance starts, any trace of edge in Ghost Town vanishes like an apparition. Still, though the plot contrives to throw Gervais and Leoni together and then pull them apart, the two leads stay consistently in sync through it all, laughing at each other's jokes and generally sharing the kind of normal adult communication that's often missing from movies about people falling in love.
Ghost Town is somewhat of a wasted opportunity, in that the premise of an irritable Gervais dealing with the last requests of a city full of troubled ghosts gets pushed onto the back burner for most of the running time, so Kinnear's problems can take precedence. Had writer-director David Koepp and his screenwriting collaborator John Kamps enlivened the romantic-comedy clichés with more supernatural whimsy—à la Groundhog Day—then Gervais might've found a superior showcase for his talents. At least the premise returns in force in Ghost Town's last 20 minutes, giving the movie a touching send-off, and Gervais more opportunities to fumble along amusingly, making inexcusably embarrassing comments, then getting people back on his side with the pathos in his sunken eyes.