Absolutely Anything (2015) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would definitely be R for nudity, sexual content, some violence, crude humor, and language
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rob Riggle, Eddie Izzard, Robin Williams (voice), John Cleese (voice), Terry Gilliam (voice), Eric Idle (voice), Michael Palin (voice), Terry Jones (voice), Meera Syal, Joanna Lumley
Director: Terry Jones
Screenplay: Gavin Scott, Terry Jones
Review published November 12, 2015
Monty Python's Terry Jones (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Erik the Viking) directs and co-scripts this silly special effects-driven comedy, reportedly inspired by an H.G. Wells story ("The Man Who Could Work Miracles"), that delivers on a few decent laughs, but not quite enough to recommend to anyone who doesn't fawn at this impressive ensemble of talent. Part of that impressive cast comes in the form of a (sort of) reunited Monty Python clan, their first full collaboration of the five remaining players since 1983's The Meaning of Life and, according to Jones, their last. They're here voicing powerful extraterrestrial CGI characters known as the Intergalactic Council of Superior Beings, interplanetary civilization destroyers who end up finding a space probe that leads them to discover Earth and determine whether the beings on it should be worthy of continued existence.
To judge this, they've imbued a random person with god-like powers to do absolutely anything they want, and if, at the end of a ten day period (one wonders what constitutes a day for space-traveling beings that don't revolve around our sun) this being uses his powers for good, they'll let the species continue. Unfortunately, that person is the feckless, woebegone London-based schoolteacher and aspiring writer Neil Clarke (Pegg, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), who soon discovers his powers and merely uses them for his own petty desires, including to impress his gorgeous downstairs neighbor Catherine (Beckinsale, Stonehearst Asylum) and to give his scruffy dog Dennis (voiced by Robin Williams, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) the voice and introspectiveness of a human being.
Simon Pegg is a natural for this kind of broad, physical comedy, and does score some genuinely funny moments in his reactions to the madness and mayhem he causes around him. The movie also comes somewhat to life when we get to hear the late Robin Williams' voice again as the pooch Dennis (Jones recorded Williams' performance over Skype), and gets some of the movie's best lines, even if, one can tell, he's not given carte blanche to ad lib as he had done in Disney's Aladdin. Terry Jones had been kicking around this script for over two decades prior to filming, and even the late Douglas Adams, to whom Jones showed the script, agreed that the dog scenes were the funniest. If only the movie could be rewritten with the dog as the star and perhaps we'd have something.
I suppose it's not a surprise to learn that Jones write this script decades ago, as it very much feels like a movie that might have come out in the early 1980s, perhaps as a sort of mash-up of Zapped!, Modern Problems, and Two of a Kind, though none of those films are particularly funny either. Then Bruce Almighty happened, and Jones figured it just wasn't meant to be, but with some distance, now it's deemed viable again. We get plenty of sight gags, such as seeing Dennis' poop walk, on Neil's command to clean itself up, and jump into the commode and flush itself down. Much of the humor comes from the fact that, in order to make his wishes come true, Neil must speak his desires out loud with a wave of his hand, such that he must be careful in how he words them. He looks in the mirror and asks for a great body, and is given a female body. He reiterates the wish and asks for the body of a great man, and suddenly he looks like Albert Einstein. You get the picture.
Absolutely Anything is absurd and energetic, and will likely make you chuckle on a number of occasions, but given how many jokes don't deliver, it's hard not to see it as a mild misfire of sorts. Despite Pegg's energy, the movie feels outdated in this day and age, and the original decades-old script probably should have remained a cozy, dusty home for spiders and silverfish. Though not unwatchable, that's probably the best compliment I can give. For a film that uses omnipotence for laughs, it's the impotence in many of the gags that keeps this one from realizing its fullest potential as a comedy. Absolutely Anything is absolutely disappointing in the end.
©2015 Vince Leo