The film begins as married New York City businessman Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear) is accidentally killed while trying to buy an apartment for his mistress. Shortly afterward, cynical dentist Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) has a near-death experience while under general anesthetic during a colonoscopy. When he recovers, he is able to see and communicate with ghosts who populate the area. The ghosts annoy Bertram by asking him to help them with personal business that was left unfinished when they died. Frank promises to keep the other ghosts away if Bertram will break up an engagement between Frank's widow Gwen (Leoni), a professional Egyptologist, and Richard (Billy Campbell), a human-rights lawyer who Frank says is dishonest. Bertram eventually agrees to the deal and tries to woo Gwen away from Richard. Bertram's past rudeness to Gwen makes this difficult, but he attracts her interest by analyzing the teeth of a mummified Egyptian Pharaoh that she has been studying.
When Bertram has dinner with Gwen and Richard, he decides that Richard is not as bad as Frank claimed, but Bertram himself begins to fall in love with Gwen, and she enjoys Bertram's sense of humor. At another dinner, Gwen reveals that she learned of Frank's mistress the day he died, and when Richard visits Bertram for some dental work, Bertram drugs him with laughing gas in order to make him reveal that Gwen has broken their engagement. Frank doesn't understand why he is still on Earth if his "unfinished business" was to break up Richard and Gwen.
Gwen, not being engaged to Richard any longer, says yes to a work proposal that would send her to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt for six months. As a going-away present, Bertram gets her a new key chain from a fancy jeweler's, as she had earlier mentioned that she desperately needed one. But when he mistakenly reveals information about Gwen that only Frank could have known, she demands the truth, and Bertram tells her the whole story about the ghosts. Gwen doesn't believe him and demands to know what Frank's worst nightmare was. Frank lies to Bertram, telling him a fake nightmare, and Gwen, thinking that Bertram has been lying to her and playing some kind of game, walks away and cuts him off. Bertram demands to know why Frank lied to him about the nightmare, and Frank points out that Bertram only cares about his own needs.
Bertram sinks into a depression and asks a fellow dentist (Aasif Mandvi), for medication that will help him forget Gwen. His colleague instead convinces him that his life would be better if he decided to stop being selfish and start helping people. Bertram begins helping the ghosts around him with their "unfinished business" on Earth, bringing comfort to people they left behind and enabling the ghosts to depart. As he does this he realizes that the ghosts were still on Earth not because they had unfinished business, but because the people they were close to were not finished with them. He begins to appreciate life and the people he encounters.
Bertram realizes that the reason Frank cannot leave is that Gwen has not let go of him yet. He confronts Gwen who asks him to ask Frank why she wasn't enough for him, and Frank says he's sorry for hurting her, which Bertram tells Gwen. Gwen is incredulous that after his infidelity, all Frank would have to say was 'sorry' and thinks that Bertram is making it all up. He rushes after her and while trying to persuade her to believe him, gets hit by a bus. Bertram, now a ghost himself, watches with Frank as people crowd around his body and Gwen sobs over him. Richard arrives on his way to the reception and tries to revive Bertram with prayer and CPR. Seeing how distraught Gwen is, Frank gives Bertram 'some advice' that will be useful in case he is resuscitated, and tells him that Gwen's tears are for Bertram, in other words she loves him. After saying this, Frank is finally allowed to leave the earthly plane.
Bertram wakes up alive in the hospital. Later Gwen, who needs dental work, comes in for an appointment with another dentist but finds Bertram's office to say hello. Bertram tells Gwen of Frank's real nightmare—that of losing his way home, which was the advice Frank told him, and then assures her that Frank has 'found his way home.' The movie ends with Gwen saying, "It hurts when I smile", to which Bertram replies "I can fix that for you".Ricky Gervais as Bertram Pincus, a misanthropic dentist who gains the ability to communicate with ghosts.
Téa Leoni as Gwen, an Egyptologist and Frank's widow.
Greg Kinnear as Frank Herlihy, a ghost who befriends Bertram.
Billy Campbell as Richard, Gwen's love interest, whom Frank warns is a "bad man".
Kristen Wiig as Bertram's self-involved surgeon.
Dana Ivey as Marjorie Pickthall
Aasif Mandvi as Dr. Prashar, Bertram's colleague.
Alan Ruck as the ghost of a family man; he competes with Frank for Bertram's attention.
Betty Gilpin as World War II Nurse
Brian d'Arcy James as Irish Eddie
Brian Tarantina as Ghost Cop
Jeff Hiller as a naked ghost.
Michael-Leon Wooley as a medical attorney.
Aaron Tveit as the anesthesiologist.
Bridget Moloney as the receptionist.
Filming took place on the Upper East Side of New York City. Regarding his character, lead actor Ricky Gervais said, "Just what America wants: a fat, British, middle-aged comedian trying to be a semi-romantic lead."
- "I'm Still In Love (w/You)" – written and performed by Dusty Wright (aka Mark J. Petracca)
- "I'm Looking Through You" – written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, performed by The Beatles (opening title)
- "The Heart of Life" – written and performed by John Mayer (ending title)
- "What I'm Looking For" – written and performed by Brendan Benson
- "Sabre Dance" – Written by Aram Khachaturian
- "What I'm Looking For" – written and performed by Brendan Benson
- "Sideways" – written and performed by Citizen Cope
- "Which Way Your Heart Will Go" – written and performed by Mason Jennings
- "Please Be Patient With Me" – written by Jeff Tweedy, Performed by Wilco
- Original Score – composed by Geoff Zanelli
The film opened at #8 at the North American box office making USD $5,012,315 in its opening weekend.
Reviews of Ghost Town were mostly positive. The film currently holds a score of 86% from reviews collected by review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, who gave it a Golden Tomato for Best Romance Film of 2008. The film received a rating of 72 out of 100 on Metacritic.
Roger Ebert gave the film three out of fours star in the Chicago Sun-Times, calling it a "lightweight rom-com elevated by its performances" and a "reminder that the funniest people are often not comedians, but actors playing straight in funny roles."
Cosmo Landesman of The Sunday Times gave the film three stars (from five), calling it a "light comedy full of dark people" that's "never quite as funny as it needs to be" but which features a "fine performance" from Gervais.
Upon the film's March 2009 DVD release in the United Kingdom, Mark Kermode said "comparing Ghost Town with Woody Allen's 'early funny ones' may seem brash, but the gentle blend of absurdist fantasy, bittersweet romcom and deadpan physical humour evokes a string of enjoyable Allen escapades from the sci-fi slapstick of Sleeper to the ghostly charms of Alice."
Ghost Town was released in the United States on standard DVD and Blu-ray formats on December 27, 2008.