One aspect of this blog that I immensely enjoy is the ability to mention other pop culture things I love, even if they’re only tangentially related to the Greg Kinnear movie under review. Like Pedro Almodovar and The Lobster when writing on The Matador. Or Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Tom Waits when writing on Mystery Men. Maybe this glimpse into my pop culture catalogue is losing me readers, but let’s table that discussion. This week, I open with an ode to The X-Files!
X-Files debuted 25 years ago, and you’ve almost certainly heard of it. David Duchovny (Fox Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully) have dynamite on-screen chemistry and perfectly complement each other as the conspiracy nut and rational scientist pair who explore the paranormal. The show blazed trails with its template, balancing an overly-ambitious mythology with outstanding monster-of-the-week episodes (many copied by subsequent sci-fi shows). The show showcased the talents of many amazing writers, such as Vince Gilligan before Breaking Bad and Darin Morgan, the greatest TV writer ever (read this interview). This set-up produced many truly great sci-fi episodes, such as the so-terrifying-it-was-banned-from-TV ‘Home’, the Emmy-winning ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose‘, the black & white ‘Post-Modern Prometheus‘, and my favorite ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space‘.
What does the X-Files have to do with Ghost Town, the movie we’re gathered here to review? Simply put, Greg Kinnear in Ghost Town is David Duchovny in real life…but not in a good way. Ghost Town’s female lead is Téa Leoni, who is David Duchovny’s ex-wife (this trivia brought to me by my amazing wife). The couple dated for eight weeks in 1997, married, had two kids, separated several times, and then divorced in 2014. The cause for these marital troubles is likely Duchovny’s sex addiction. Duchovny was oft-unfaithful, and basically a scumbag husband. In an eerie parallel, Kinnear’s character in Ghost Town is Leoni’s unfaithful husband who dies…and then continues to be a scumbag towards her as a ghost. Let’s explore these Kinnear/Duchovny parallels, and discuss all the other ways Ghost Town is great!
Ghost Town (2008)
Directed by David Koepp , Ghost Town is a comedy starring Kinnear, Leoni, and Ricky Gervais. Ghost Town has an X-Files-inspired premise minus the haunting: people who die with unfinished business persist as ghosts. Such is the fate of Greg Kinnear’s character. In the opening scene, he chides his realtor over the phone for showing his wife the apartment he wants to rent for his mistress, before he steps into the street to avoid a falling AC unit…and is killed by a bus. Problem is, ghosts like Greg cannot communicate with their living loved ones, complete their unfinished business, and pass on to the next life. Enter Ricky Gervais.
People may hate dentists, but Ricky Gervais is a dentist who hates people. He’s the guy who sneaks out while his coworkers celebrate an office birthday. He’s the guy who furiously presses ‘close elevator’ when he sees his neighbor rushing to catch it. And he’s the guy who dies for seven minutes during a routine colonoscopy. (Kristen Wiig plays his doctor and this scene where Gervais learns he dies is comedy gold). Gervais’s momentary death gives him the post-resuscitation ability to see ghosts, and they come knocking. Relieved they can communicate with someone living, the ghosts haunt Gervais to help complete their unfinished business.
Always the charmer, Ghost Kinnear strikes a deal with Gervais. If Gervais helps Kinnear with his unfinished business, Kinnear will hold off all his fellow ghosts. Kinnear’s widow (Téa Leoni) is freshly engaged to a “dishonest scumbag” and Kinnear needs Gervais to break up the relationship. Leoni is a professional Egyptologist who studies mummies, which is the coolest career of any of Kinnear’s on-screen partners. Ghost Kinnear “introduces” Gervais to Leoni by having him attend one of her talks, where Gervais becomes attracted to Leoni and decides to break up her relationship by “swooping.”
What follows is a very funny, if predictable rom com. Gervais helps Leoni analyze “mummy molars,” revealing a bad case of gingivitis. This intellect, along with Gervais’ dry humor, inspires feelings of attraction in Leoni. Gervais & Leoni spend more time together, and Ghost Kinnear (invisible to everyone but Gervais) feeds Gervais info to help with the swoop. Gervais dines with Leoni (plus Ghost Kinnear), and Leoni reveals that she knew Kinnear was unfaithful. This surprises and saddens Kinnear, who legit thought he was a great husband aside from the infidelity. Which is probably what Duchovny thought too irl. Gervais eventually dines with Leoni and her fiancé, only to learn her fiancé is a good guy and a human rights lawyer. Which means Kinnear’s wish to break them up is purely selfish. Gervais decides to let the relationship be, but Leoni breaks up with her fiancé anyway.
Re-invigorated, Gervais buys Leoni a gift and starts to woo her. But he reveals too much info he shouldn’t know and then has to explain his interactions with Ghost Kinnear. Leoni thinks he’s crazy and leaves. Gervais decides to be good and helps all the other ghosts with their requests. Through this, he learns that ghosts are trapped not because they have unfinished business, but because their loved ones haven’t let them go. Eventually, he approaches Leoni and learns she hasn’t let go of Kinnear because she’s angry, wanting to know why she wasn’t enough for him. To this there is no answer, other than Kinnear attempting to apologize through Gervais. On leaving, Gervais momentarily dies (again) when he is hit by a bus. Leoni’s emotional reaction to the accident shows her feelings for Gervais and allows her to let go of Kinnear who passes on to the next life. The movie ends with Leoni visiting Gervais at his dental office, and their interaction implies a future relationship is in the cards.
Ghost Town is hilarious. It’s well-written, and carried by strong leads and a stellar supporting cast. Wiig as Gervais’s doctor and Aasif Mandvi as Gervais’s dental partner are terrific in their secondary roles. My only disappointment was the ending. I would have loved to see Leoni end up with the human rights lawyer. Sure, scumbags like Gervais may be redeemed but good guys who stay good guys are cool too.
Greg Kinnear’s performance is terrific. As readers know from past posts (i.e. Nurse Betty and Mystery Men), GK is at his best when playing selfish, narcissistic characters who exude charm and confidence. This perfectly describes GK in GT. In fact, GK may be at his scummiest in Ghost Town. In Mystery Men and Nurse Betty, Kinnear’s ego belied an angry core–but his arrogance only harmed himself. In Mystery Men, it literally got him killed while the “Mystery Men” saved the world. In Nurse Betty, Kinnear’s arrogance led to him making a fool of himself on set which snapped Renée Zellweger out of her fugue state. No harm no foul, except to himself.
In Ghost Town, Kinnear’s selfish charm hurts his wife both in life (cheating with his mistress) and in death (breaking up her engagement). Not to mention the collateral damage experienced by his widow’s fiancé turned ex-fiancé. So, yeah, the comedic nature of Ghost Town masks how truly terrible GK’s character is.
But, of course, this is where GK shines. His confidence drives some absolutely hilarious scenes, such as when he stalks Gervais until Gervais agrees to his deal. Or when he attends Leoni’s talk with Gervais. The two talk around each other, describing the characteristics Leoni likely prefers in a mate and it’s hilarious. (I can’t find a clip of the scene so enjoy this quote. I was LOLing).
Kinnear: I was thinking he should be rugged…you know?
Gervais: No, not rugged…just approachable…
Gervais: Round-faced, if anything…and sensitive
Kinnear: Well, he should at least be tall…
Gervais: No, no, no he’s not.
Gervais: No, just average…
Gervais: …Bordering on short
Kinnear: Hmm…good god, you mean you!
Scenes like this highlight the great chemistry between Gervais and Kinnear. I’ve never been a Gervais fan, but the two work off each other really well. Kinnear’s confidence and persistence is a thorn in Gervais’s side, but Gervais pushes back in a wonderfully awkward dinner scene. In it, Gervais presses Leoni for more and more details as to why Kinnear was a bad husband, as Ghost Kinnear listens and is wounded by each new reveal. The two continue to undermine each other’s efforts right up to the end.
One final note, Kinnear wears a tux for the whole movie. Like you, I would’ve preferred a tuxedo shirt. Even so, the tux is classy and the cherry-on-top to a great, scummy character.
- The X-Files is awesome and it’s 25 years old! David Duchovny, however, was a very unfaithful real-life husband to Téa Leoni. Greg Kinnear stands in for Duchovny in a similarly-doomed relationship in Ghost Town.
- Ghost Town is a hilarious rom com, featuring strong writing and boosted by great performances from Leoni, Kinnear, and Ricky Gervais.
- Kinnear’s character cheats on Leoni in life, while his ghost works through Gervais to break up her new relationship. Kinnear’s definitely a selfish scumbag, but this let’s him flex the confidence and charm central to his best movie roles. I rank this role highly.
- Next-up: I’ll be traveling and won’t post for a bit, giving all of you plenty of time to watch You’ve Got Mail!
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