3 Stars Movies

Ghost Town is The Sixth Sense as a romantic comedy

David Koepp’s Ghost Town pulls at the heartstrings without being too nauseating. With a tagline that implies The Sixth Sense as a romantic comedy, its tone and subject matter are roughly comparable to As Good As It Gets: the thawing of a misanthrope with some good qualities. It mostly earns it, but the last 2-3 lines of dialog don’t feel natural — the sort of thing a screenwriter might jot down first, and then later write an entire screenplay around. It’s a real bittersweet irony for Bertram’s (Ricky Gervais) first real friend (Greg Kinnear) to literally disappear.

Poor Téa Leoni is once again saddled with an age-inappropriate love interest, as she was with Ben Kingsley in You Kill Me. I can’t picture Gwen and Bertram as lovers, but I can see them as forging a real friendship, amidst their unique situation. Their characters are well-drawn enough that I can buy his ironic wit appealing to her while her supposedly perfect fiancé may be a good human being but is utterly humorless.

3 Stars Movies

Téa Leoni clings to the menacing Ben Kingsley in You Kill Me

The first thing to say about You Kill Me is to give props to Ben Kingsley, if for no other reason than my fear that he will break my kneecaps if I don’t. Even after his terrifying turn in Sexy Beast, it’s still a surprise to see how perfectly natural for him to inhabit a role like Frank, an almost superhumanly talented mob assassin. For a man of a certain age who once played Ghandi, he can certainly act up some serious physical menace. But You Kill Me gives him a chance to enrich this character type instead of merely repeat it. In Sexy Beast, he was funny because he was so very extremely menacing. Here, his character is menacing and funny.

You Kill Me is a bicoastal film, literally illustrating Frank’s different worlds by setting the action in two different cities. In Buffalo, You Kill Me shares with The Sopranos a look into the operations of modern-day gangsters. Their lives are somewhat less exciting than the fantasy lucrative lifestyle seen in The Godfather and Scarface, but still sharply divided by cultural heritage and identity. Frank may seem to be a pathetic figure, but when sober, he is the sole factor keeping his small-time Polish crime family in business.

Yeah, I find alcoholic assassins irresistible too

The problem is, he is sober less and less when the story opens, and his family must fix him in order to survive. So Frank is ordered from Buffalo to San Francisco to dry out, leaving behind his family (both by blood and criminal association) and yet quickly forging a new one: Dave (Bill Pullman), a shady real-estate dealer no better than a gangster himself; Tom (Luke Wilson), a gay fellow alcoholic; and implausible love interest Laurel (Téa Leoni, also an executive producer).

Ben Kingsley in You Kill Me
This man played Ghandi

The problem with Laurel is not only the creepy age differential (a long-standing Hollywood pox from which it seems even indies aren’t immune), but with her underdeveloped character. What little we learn of her history (a recently deceased, unloved stepfather) seems insufficient to explain what makes her so lonely and desperate that she would attach herself to possibly the most unstable and unreliable person in the world. What happened to her to make her so blasé and amoral that she clings so fervently to Frank and cross the country to risk her life for him?

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