Dentists will deny this, but it is sometimes said that only their families and friends, and their accountants, really love them.
Which makes Ricky Gervais ideal casting as misanthropic Manhattan dentist Bertram Pincus in this engaging fantasy comedy. Gervais's on-screen cynical charmlessness (he calls tacos "stenchy ethnic food that stings the eyes") as the character created by director David Koepp and John Kamps fits him like a surgical glove, while Koepp's deft direction gets the most out of his various unfortunate predicaments.
Attractive echoes of old ghost films Topper and Blithe Spirit are evoked when Pincus dies for seven seconds and miraculously returns to life with the unfortunate ability to see and be seen by the dead.
Seizing their opportunity, they pester him to finish their unfinished business so that they can stop haunting the streets of New York.
The spirit of unfaithful Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) turns out to be the most relentless, hounding Pincus into putting a spoke into his wife Gwen's (Tea Leoni) engagement to fortune hunter Richard (Billy Campbell). It is a job which causes problem after problem for the luckless dentist and generates plenty of lively, entertaining comedy.
Of course, the film basically a comic take on The Sixth Sense, but it is also an ingenious and very enjoyable one. I have not enjoyed Gervais's previous big-screen appearances in films like For Your Consideration and Stardust. Here, however (despite sporting less than splendid real teeth that would surely put off any smile-worshipping American from becoming his patient) he gives a clever and sustained portrait of slowly eroding hatred of everyone that cleverly defuses any tendency towards sentimentality. Kinnear is suitably nasty as his tormentor, Leoni's Egyptologist is good fun. So, too, is the film.