Death is ever present at the Toronto International Film Festival, both in the movies and in the eyes of the patrons dragging themselves to 9 a.m. screenings after a night of partying. Plenty of films treat the subject seriously -- you are never far from an indie drama in which someone mourns someone else's death -- but it's played for laughs quite a bit, too.
Ghost Town does the best job of it so far, neatly toying with the Sixth Sense model and finding plenty of comedy in people who see dead people. It stars Ricky Gervais as Bertram Pincus, a curmudgeonly dentist who, after a near-death experience, finds that he can see and hear the many ghosts who wander Manhattan. The comic twist: He hates people, dead or alive, and has no interest in helping anyone finish their unfinished business.
His most persistent dead acquaintance is Frank (Greg Kinnear), an adulterous jerk who wants to prevent his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni), from remarrying. Pincus agrees to interrupt her new relationship solely because he has a crush on her himself, and that's good enough for Frank.
There's an awful lot going on here -- fulfilling dead people's requests, breaking up a romance, and learning to love humanity comprises a busy agenda for one character, and Ghost Town could stand some trimming and toning. But it's often hilarious, too, primarily because of Gervais' fine-tuned snark and misanthropy. If the film is little more than his attempt to break out of the "cult following" category and find mainstream American success, more power to him. He deserves it, and Ghost Town is an auspicious start.
Ghost Town's premise is supernatural but reasonably familiar to filmgoers. Somewhat more bizarre is Dean Spanley, a wonderfully charming and whimsical comedy about an Anglican priest who believes he is the reincarnation of a dog.