Surprisingly Good ‘Ghost Town’ Continues the Tradition of the Monday Surprise

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Photo: Courtesy of distributors

Way back in July we dissed the trailer to this past weekend's Ricky Gervais comedy Ghost Town, begging Gervais to head back to television and saying the movie looked "eye-searingly terrible." Ricky Gervais in a romantic comedy? About a guy who sees ghosts and has to help them into the afterlife? C'mon, we scoffed. There was no way that movie could be good.

But then Ghost Town picked up a lot of solid reviews. And then we saw it this weekend … and it was really good. It was funny, sad, well written, well acted, the whole deal. Ghost Town's premise was so hoary and its trailer so lame that it fooled our usually foolproof bad-movie radar, making Ghost Town Hollywood's latest Monday Surprise.

You know the Monday Surprise! The kind of movie where you don't know why you saw it — maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend dragged you to it, or maybe the only other option was Lakeview Terrace — but on Monday, you buttonhole your co-workers and tell them: "You know what movie surprised me, how good it was?"

What makes a Monday Surprise? They're always bland-looking studio movies, usually comedies, with the kind of premise that just doesn't seem like it would appeal to a thinking moviegoer — either because it's overdone (misanthrope sees ghosts, learns to connect) or fluffy (high-school cheerleaders battle it out for popularity) or downright off-the-wall (actors from a sci-fi show are kidnapped by actual aliens). It helps if they feature TV actors or flat-out unknowns, not movie stars. Often their trailers were cut by studios that clearly don't know how to sell smarter-than-expected movies and just make them look as dumb as possible. (Ghost Town's trailer might as well have had that record-scratching sound.)

What are some classic Monday Surprises? Our favorites are Bring It On and Galaxy Quest, which we've alluded to above. We still remember how flabbergasted we were when we danced out of Clueless, a movie we had to be dragged into kicking and screaming. Super Troopers and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle were stoner comedies we never expected to love, yet did. We have a soft spot for well-constructed romantic comedies like 13 Going on 30 and Just Like Heaven, which are impossible to market any differently from totally stupid romantic comedies but are awfully potent when done even halfway decently. Even action movies can be Monday Surprises: If you were one of the lucky few who saw Reign of Fire on its opening weekend, you likely spent the next month telling everyone you knew that they must see it.

And they probably didn't listen. Sure, there's the occasional Monday Surprise that is a big hit — Legally Blonde, say — but the nature of the Monday Surprise is that no matter how good it is, it's hard to talk other people into it. Ghost Town was no hit, finishing a weak eighth for the week (though with a decent per-screen average). But Monday Surprises tend to do well on DVD as word of mouth slowly accumulates, so even if Ghost Town fails to become a box-office smash, it'll live forever in Netflix queues and airplane video screens, pleasantly surprising future movie-watchers just as it pleasantly surprised us.