Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) is a hopeless no-mantic — a short, stout, self-loathing squidgy-faced misanthrope who’s a dentist by day, a hermit by night and cruel or helpless even in casual conversation.
Gervais won’t be the sort to ever dip and kiss the girl, but 2008’s Ghost Town didn’t attempt that kind of romance. Mild to a point where it finishes on a friendship with a chance of flirtation, director David Koepp’s film softened Bertram not into a gregarious goof but someone able to break social silence.
Bertram is able to speak with ghosts after briefly dying during a colonoscopy. (The disclosure of said death is a classic bit of consternation between Gervais, Kristen Wiig as his doctor and Michael-Leon Woolley as a lawyer.) All the spirits need earthbound problems solved, but Frank (Greg Kinnear), a philandering prick, forces Bertram to prevent his widow, Gwen (Téa Leoni) from marrying a doctor.
From there, Ghost Town becomes less about broadening Bertram’s world and bettering Gwen’s, with or without a love connection. (It helps that warmth, humor and vulnerability for once don’t seem like traits that would short Leoni’s circuits.) The relaxed, natural cadence of Koepp and John Kamps’ dialogue achieves no greater perfection than in Gervais’ last line, one of the Zeroes’ most unexpectedly tender and comforting.
Yes, there are gags about mummy penises and canine halitosis, but other sublime moments recall Albert Brooks’ social-satire heyday, and given the otherworldly elements, Ghost Town sweetly hits the heights of Brooks’ Defending Your Life.