While everyone was gasping over THE SIXTH SENSE, writer-turned-director David Koepp quietly delivered a chilling adaptation of Richard (I am Legend) Matheson's novel A Stir of Echoes, in which a man who begins to see ghosts after being hypnotized at a party. And they're not happy... scary stuff. But in Koepp's comedic variation on a similar theme, the dead are not just unhappy -- they're irritatingly needy.
Dr. Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais of the UK Office and HBO's Extras) is an embittered, misanthropic and, we later learn, heart-broken Manhattan dentist with a successful practice and a partner (Assif Mandvi) he does his best to avoid. Simply put, Bertram isn't a people person: He's happiest with a patient whose mouth is stuffed with cotton or -- better still -- sealed shut with a plaster mold. But after undergoign a routine colonoscopy, Bertram is suddenly hounded by an odd assemblage of New Yorkers -- construction workers, and elderly couple, a nurse in a WWII period uniform, a guy in tux -- who, once they realize Bertram can see them, all seem to want something from him. Frank (Greg Kinnear), the guy in the tux, clues him in: They're ghosts who have unfinished business with the living -- letters sent but never received, tragic misunderstandings that require an explanation, beloved lost teddy bears that need finding -- and they hope Bertram can help them settle their mortal affairs. Before he himself was killed by the legendary bus with his name on it, Frank was a philandering husband who left behind a grieving widow, Gwen (Tea Leoni), a mummy expert at the Met. When Bertram confronts his doctor (SNL's marvelous Kristen Wiig) about these bizarre hallucinations, she confesses that he died for nearly seven minutes during his procedure, and Frank fills in the rest: Bertram's near-death experience enabled him to see the dear but insufficiently departed. Frank offers to keep the pesky shades at bay if Bertram -- who likes the dead even less than the living -- agrees to help with his personal bit of unfinished business: Frank needs Bertram to intercede in the upcoming marriage between Gwen and Richard (Billy Campbell), the lawyer Frank thinks is after her money. Bertram agrees but has his own agenda: Wooing Gwen away from Richard himself, a mission Frank, having observed Bertram's lack of social skills, thinks is doomed to failure.
Bertram eventually learns that the niggling, inconsequential details of other people's lives -- the minutia he once found so annoying -- are filled with pathos, and that no one's story is insignificant. It's a nice thought that doesn't add much substance to Koepp's routine premise, but the film works as a showcase for Gervais, who plays an oddly likable jerk with surprising subtlety. The rest is hardly original: Koepp's script, co-written with John Kamps, is an undisguised mix of GHOST, TOPPER, BLITHE SPIRIT, OVER HER DEAD BODY and countless other supernatural comedies, but a handful of genuine, choke-up moments suggest a finer sensibility than the one behind, say, GHOST DAD. leave a comment --Ken Fox