Sarah Shatz, Dreamworks
Frank (Greg Kinnear) asks Bertram (Ricky Gervais) to break up his widow's impending marriage.

GHOST TOWN — *** — Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Tea Leoni; rated PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, drugs, violence, slurs, nude art)

In "Ghost Town," Ricky Gervais sees dead people. And he speaks to them. And he takes advice from them, as well as dispensing some advice to them.

Admittedly, that doesn't seem like the smartest idea for a comedy — especially not for a romantic comedy. But this rather cheeky fantasy makes the concept work. It's surprisingly charming and oddly romantic, though it does have a couple of questionable moments as well.

Gervais (from the British version of "The Office") stars as Bertram Pincus, a standoffish New York dentist who briefly "dies" while undergoing a routine medical procedure.

The mishap has given him the ability to see ghosts and interact with them. In fact, he's now besieged by spectral requests for assistance (they have unfinished business before they move on to the afterlife).

However, one of these apparitions is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who offers to free Bertram of these "obligations" if he will do him just one favor: Frank wants to stop his widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni), from remarrying.

The complication there is, Bertram actually begins falling for the sweetly neurotic Egyptologist Gwen, who's engaged to Richard (Billy Campbell), a seemingly nice-guy philanthropist.

Co-screenwriter/director David Koepp was wise to cast Gervais. His dry, sometimes caustic delivery makes this dialogue funnier than it might have been otherwise.

He also has good chemistry with Leoni, who's much more appealing here than she's been lately. Though they do look mismatched, their characters' fumbled relationship feels awkward and real.

Also, Kinnear is clearly having fun, playing against his usual good-guy type as the caddish, philandering Frank.

"Ghost Town" is rated PG-13 for scattered strong profanity (including a couple of uses of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), some vulgar slang and digestive humor, drug content and references (anesthetics and narcotics), brief violence (auto-pedestrian collisions), some derogatory language and glimpses of nude statues. Running time: 102 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com