Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Terry Jones
Stars: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Joanna Lumley, Eddie Izzard, Rob Riggle, Emma Pierson, voices of Robin Williams, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones.
Outside of the first two films in Edgar Wright’s so-called Cornetto Trilogy, Simon Pegg’s film career has probably seen more misses than hits. He recently redeemed his reputation with roles in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and the romantic comedy Man Up, although the latter’s success was due more to the superb chemistry he shared with co-star Lake Bell. But now he has squandered whatever residual goodwill he may have with audiences on this absolute stinker of a comedy.
Absolutely Anything is based on a H G Wells short story entitled The Man Who Could Work Miracles, about wish fulfilment, but director Terry Jones (Monty Python And The Holy Grail, etc) and co-script writer Gavin Scott (The Borrowers, Small Soldiers, etc) have taken enormous liberties with the source material. Apparently this project has been in development for nearly twenty years, and was at one stage to be called The Dog Who Saved The World.
In the 70s NASA launched a satellite into space loaded with information about our civilization, hoping to reach intelligent life. The satellite fell into the hands of these alien creatures who apparently roam the universe, judging the inhabitants of the various planets they encounter, and exercise the power of life and death. They choose an inhabitant at random, endow him with Godlike powers to make any wish come true, and observe what he does for ten days. If he is able to use his powers for good to serve the rest of the planet then it is saved – if not, the planet is destroyed. Thus they decide to investigate Earth.
They randomly choose to give this power to Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg), an irresponsible, idle and feckless high school teacher with plenty going on in his life. All Neil has to do is make a wish and then wave his right hand and it magically comes true.
Neil initially uses this strange power for purely selfish purposes – he temporarily declares himself the President of the United States, he wipes his bothersome year 10 class off the face of the earth, he accidentally unleashes a zombie apocalypse, he owns every racehorse in the world, which takes the fun out of betting, and he makes his lovelorn colleague Ray (Sanjeev Bhaskar) attractive to a fellow PE teacher, which has far reaching consequences. And he gives his loyal pet dog Dennis the power of speech (voiced here by the late, great Robin Williams in what is a somewhat sad swansong). And ironically, his more serious wishes such as an end to war, hunger and homelessness strangely backfire.
He also tries to use his power to make his attractive neighbour Catherine (a game Kate Beckinsale) fall in love with him. Catherine though has her own troubles. She works as a researcher and producer for a television book program, hosted by a woman (Joanna Lumley in little more than a cameo) who loathes books and doesn’t read, and who loves to tear strips off pretentious authors. And Catherine is being stalked by Grant (Rob Riggle), a US military officer whose behaviour becomes increasingly desperate, unhinged and dangerous, especially when he learns of Neil’s powers.
Absolutely Anything is the first film directed by former Monty Python star Jones since 1996’s The Wind In The Willows. Jones was once responsible for much of the anarchic humour that characterised the Python team’s best efforts such as Life Of Brian, etc, and here he seems to throw everything at the screen in the hopes that some of it sticks. Unfortunately most of the juvenile humour here falls flat. There is a cheap penis joke, and much of the juvenile humour is borderline offensive.
Jones’ direction is manic, resulting in a film that is tonally uneven and seems episodic in structure. The longer it goes on the sillier it becomes, and despite a relatively brief running time of just 86 minutes, the film outstays its welcome. Absolutely Anything is a high concept comedy, but Jones wastes the material with little real imagination or inspiration. The special effects are also often quite clumsy and obvious.
Desperate publicists have hailed this as a sort of Monty Python reunion as it features all five surviving members of the anarchic comedy troupe (John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Jones himself), but their presence is wasted. The five never appear on screen, and only provide the voices for a bunch of CGI created alien creatures. They speak in tongues as well, and the only recognisable voice is that of Cleese, with his distinctive tones and acerbic delivery.
Pegg brings his usual goofy charm to his role here but he never seems quite comfortable with the material. And the film squanders the talents of a good supporting cast that includes Eddie Izzard in a couple of scenes as Neil’s principal.
And as for the late Williams – he seems barely interested here, and his vocal work lacks the energy and vocal gymnastics of his work in superior fare like Aladdin and Happy Feet. This is a sad footnote to his career.
Whatever you do, do absolutely anything you can to avoid this thoroughly obnoxious and unfunny comedy! Maybe Pegg could just wave his magical hand and make this one disappear from his resume altogether!