by Rick Grant
Ricky Gervais is a funny man who produced the British and American version of The Office. Now he’s trying to break into American films with this comedy. Gervais portrays a obsessive and uptight dentist, Bertram Pincus D.D.S., who comes off as a jerk. He hates his patients especially the ones that talk a lot. So, he stuffs their mouth with cotton. When a routine operation goes bad, Bartram dies for seven minutes and when he wakes up, he has access to the other side where he can see ghosts who are trapped on earth with unfinished business.
Bertram Pincus is a most unlikely medium, since he already loathes interaction with living people. Now he’s got demanding ghosts asking him to help them finish their business so they can cross-over. Greg Kinnear plays Frank Herlihy, a pompous ass who was cheating on his wife Gwen (Tea Leoni) when he got hit by a bus and killed. Frank needs to make amends for betraying Gwen before he goes into the light. But, Gwen is engaged to a Civil Rights Lawyer, who Frank thinks is not right for her. Frank wants Bertram to get close to Gwen and somehow break up her engagement to this chump. If he does this, Frank will get the other ghosts to leave him alone.
Gwen is a archeologist working for a New York Metropolitan Museum. She has discovered the remains of an ancient Egyptian and is giving a lecture at the museum’s auditorium. Bertram uses this event to chat up Gwen who happens to live in Bertram’s apartment building. The meeting is awkward because Gwen remembers Bartram’s rude behavior to her in the past. But, Bartram mentions the teeth of the corpse and why they are in such bad condition. Intrigued, Gwen goes for a walk with Bartram and he charms her with his witty repartee.
This sequence is the highlight of the movie that produces the most laughs. Writer/director David Koepp masterfully orchestrates a lively pace and snappy dialogue. Gervais is hilarious with his one liners and he knows how to turn on the charm. However, the second part of the film bogs down in Bartram’s attempts to court Gwen. At a dinner party, she laughs at his jokes and her fiance has to leave.
Clearly, at this point, there is a spark of emotional feeling between Bartram and Gwen. But it doesn’t seem enough to ignite a hot romance. The flaccid interaction between the two people from different worlds doesn’t go very far because Frank tricks Bartram into telling Gwen of his worst dream-but it’s a lie. Gwen walks away, disgusted and Bartram is left wondering if he can function now that Gwen has split. The poor sod is crushed.
After the break up scene, the movie sputters and misses like an old Ford V8. Then there is a loud sound of the momentum being sucked out of the story. Other unexpected things happen to give Bartram a second chance with a shocking scene that puts the film back on track. The draggy middle is almost forgotten as the film rebuilds its momentum to the finale.
Gervais pulls the rabbit out of the hat to save the film with his magnetic attraction and charm. Tea Leoni does her job well as Gwen, but seems to be miscast in this film. Leoni never convinces the viewers that her character Gwen could fall in love with Bartram. Still, the film should help Gervais establish himself in Hollywood as a comedic actor, writer, and producer.
Despite the film’s flaws it’s still worth seeing and fans of The Office will understand Gervais’ influence on this hit series.
by Rick Grant