A film sporting the remaining living Monty Python troupe, the last film appearance by Robin Williams, and starring funny-man Simon Pegg, should presumably be comedy gold and a fairly big deal. Instead, Director Terry Jones (Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail) seems to have squandered a rather interesting premise and a stellar cast to produce a mediocre tale that draws unkind parallels to Bruce Almighty, and even Ricky Gervais’ appalling The Invention of Lying.
Neil (Simon Pegg) is an immature and disillusioned high school teacher, stuck writing a novel he’ll never finish, teaching in a school where he receives little respect from students or other teachers alike, and left pining for his downstairs neighbour (Kate Beckinsale) who mistakenly thinks he’s gay. That is, until a group of aliens known as the ‘Intergalactic Council of Superior Beings’ decide to test the Earth’s worthiness to exist by giving Neil God-like powers. At the flick of a wrist, Neil is suddenly able to change, summon or create anything at will, giving him the ability to change his whole life. The only problem is that if he’s unable to use his new powers for good to impress the Council, the entire Earth will be destroyed as a consequence – no biggie.
The film has its fun at first, with Neil using his powers to alter all sorts of trivial and selfish things, from straightening out his classroom of unruly students, to making dog poop clean itself up, and even increasing the size of his own member. But after these somewhat humorous moments pass, the film seems unwilling to move onto bigger things, and as a result, never looks beyond the small-scale. A fleeting moment later on deals with issues of poverty, famine and war, but it’s no sooner touched upon than abandoned for the lazy rom-com storyline that overrides the sci-fi or fantasy elements. It’s akin to being able to travel to anywhere in the world, but instead remaining within one room for 85 minutes of running time.
What’s worse is that the small characterization that each character receives is simply lost and quickly forgotten so that we can simply watch Neil ‘do things’. Neil’s half-finished novel barely gets a mention, which is odd seeing that one would assume he would at least be slightly interested in suddenly succeeding in that career with his new powers, and his teaching career essentially becomes an after thought. Beckinsale’s Catherine doesn’t make it out any better. Her set up sees her fairly fed-up in job as a television producer, working for a host with questionable morals, as well as being sexually harassed by a higher-up for a promotion, which she technically ends up getting only because Neil waves his hand, and then it’s never spoken of again. It’s also fairly insane to think that the story never makes a link between Catherine’s television program, that reviews novels, and Neil’s unfulfilled career, but this is the logic of the film.
Yet, the film’s real downfall is that it well and truly fits its title of Absolutely Anything. Jones seems to relish in every opportunity to make a joke, and while there are a few witty moments of comedy, they become lost in a sea of mediocre gags that elicit the same clenched-teeth smile reserved for the comedy of a weird Uncle at a family reunion. It’s hard not to imagine that the film would have been better fitted to the format of a three-minute sketch so as to not let the joke get old, but with the attached talent it’s assumed there was money for a feature.
Pegg does his best to ground the film, but his character is such a rehash of every other bumbling nice-guy he’s played that he seems to compensate by being overenthusiastic, which isn’t a good thing. Beckinsale seems to survive by merely not having to engage in most of the outlandish shenanigans, although her character is remarkably underserviced, especially in her motivation to hook up with Neil for no other reason than that he lives upstairs and because he’s a ‘nice guy’.
The voice work of the Monty Python troupe, including John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Michael Palin, as the council of silly alien beings is as close as the film gets to having a highlight, and while it’s an unhappy thought that this will be the last film credited to the great, late actor, Williams at least gets to go out doing the improv that he was so critically renowned for. There are also appearances by Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, and Sanjeev Bhaskar, although no action is made to utilize their talents.
Unfortunately, Absolutely Anything is the type of film that has the underlying feeling that most of the cast turned up merely for the chance to work with each other or to collect a quick paycheck. Either way, the end result is subpar and rather disappointing.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10