Dir. David Koepp; writ. Koep, John Kamps; feat. Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Alan Ruck, Téa Leoni, Jeff Hiller
Bertram Pincus, D.D.S. (Gervais), like we suspect of so many dentists, chose the profession out of unchecked hatred for humanity. Pincus doesn’t do it for the sadistic thrill of an improperly anesthetized root canal, though, but the power to silence others with a completeness only cotton wads and Novocain can provide. He can’t stand idle chatter from patients, colleagues, or even his hot, intelligent neighbor, Gwen (Leoni). In other words, Pincus is just the sort of awkward prick Gervais has made a career of playing, and the film (penned by the creative team behind Zathura) is strongest when the somewhat convoluted plot gets out of his way.
Unfortunately for Pincus (and, in some ways, the audience), this is a major-studio romantic comedy, so his life of boorish solitude can’t last. After being clinically dead for seven minutes, Pincus has the ability to see and hear the dead, a whole new crowd of undesirables — transparent, normally invisible people who can’t be shut up or shut out. And these are dead New Yorkers we’re talking about: persistent, demanding, but unable to manipulate objects or generally communicate with the living, and thus requiring a few favors from their one breathing spokesperson. Pushiest of the ghosts is Frank Herlihy (Kinnear) an unfaithful jackass of a husband, who wants to disrupt his widow’s plans to remarry, for some reason. Herlihy’s motivations, as with every other of the film’s characters, are obscure, seemingly less about needs or emotions than keeping the clunky story moving.
Pincus’s reasons for immediately falling in love with Gwen after months of completely ignoring her are equally weak, and the chemistry between the two is nonexistent. (When’s the last time you saw a romantic comedy in which the two leads never even kiss?) The film does, however, provide several decent laughs, and even a few moments of genuine emotion — a perfect date movie for couples old enough to knowingly laugh at a colonoscopy gag, then sigh with relief when the camera declines to follow Gervais into the bathroom.