Absolutely Anything may be one of those laugh out loud type of comedies, but it’s also a subtle satire about the state of the world and the people populating it courtesy of Terry Jones, one of the original Monty Python crew. The premise is a bit like Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy meets Bruce Almighty. When one man is bestowed the power to be able to do absolutely anything, can he use the power for good in order to save the world from being destroyed? Well this is a British rom-com (sort-of) so you know it’s going to have a relatively happy ending.
We open on the Pioneer probe, sent from Earth and shot into space in an attempt to make contact with and let an alien species know of our existence. What we weren’t expecting was it falling into the laps of the Intergalactic Council, a group of trigger-happy eccentric aliens with extremely high standards when it comes to allowing other species to co-exist in the galaxy. But before they can unleash their demolition order upon Earth we must be given a chance to prove ourselves so the aliens bestow a single individual with the power to do absolutely anything. On the receiving end of this cosmic power is Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) who unwittingly, unknowingly and now suddenly has the ability to make anything happen with just a wave of his hand. But having all that power turns out to be more challenging than he could’ve imagined. Can Neil win over the heart of his neighbour Catherine (Kate Beckinsale), stop her crazy ex one-night-stand Colonel Grant (Rob Riggle) and save the world from obliteration by the aliens?
On the plus side for this film, having Terry Jones behind it there’s a lot of outright and subtle comedy, that is particularly British. So Australian audiences are probably going to get a few more laughs out of this than say American. It focuses on the complexity of having this power, particularly when Neil is not given instructions on how to deal with his new found abilities. The fact that it relies on the requests to be very specific gets plenty of laughs but as the film progresses this trope becomes a bit tedious. It also raises the question of what you would do as an individual with that power. Neil tries to do the right thing, particularly near the end but only ever seems to make things worse. It’s loosely based on a H.G. Wells’ comedy short The Man Who Could Work Miracles, and the script for this had been in development between Jones and Gavin Scott for 20 years before finally getting green-lit into a film production. But as touched on earlier, it does tend to borrow from films like Bruce Almighty or even Jim Carrey’s The Mask with its ridiculous wish-granting style antics. But really the advantage of having somebody like Jones behind this film clearly resulted in the cast lineup.
Simon Pegg is an excellent but predictable choice as Neil combining bumbling awkwardness and genuine charm with man-child silliness. He never comes across as pretentious but unsurprisingly once he becomes aware of his new found abilities isn’t shy about trying to use them for his own personal gain. I’m pretty sure that if the film hadn’t cast him in the lead, it would not be anywhere near as endearing or enjoyable. Having the voices of the original and remaining Monty Python cast members was good but they were also under-utilised. Having them play the animated alien council detracts from the potential physical or slapstick comedy that would’ve been achieved if they had been interacting onscreen in real life. Robin Williams as the voice of Dennis The Dog in his last ever film role is above average, but nowhere near as stellar as his other voice-acting roles like in Aladdin or Robots. It made me both happy to hear his voice acting talents again but sad that this will be his last ever role committed to film. Kate Beckinsale came off as a bit boring and it didn’t really feel like she had good chemistry with Pegg. Funnily enough, her best scenes are when she’s gossiping with her best friend or trying to fend off her obsessive psycho American ex boyfriend. So it’s actually some of the comedic moments where she shines a little more, but overall I wasn’t convinced.
Out of the supporting cast, Rob Riggle’s turn as the psycho ex-boyfriend-one-night-stand guy is a not so subtle dig at the Americans and their over-zealousness in all things and need to dominate. Whilst the cameo by Joanna Lumley as a bitter and spiteful author and book critic who neither reads nor adequately interviews the authors is so briefly onscreen that she’s almost forgettable and unnecessary. The disposable-ness of some of the other supporting cast members also feels like they were written in purely to bulk out the line-up but it just never feels like we want to invest in their growth.
At a very tight 85 minutes, the film wastes little time in establishing too many deep character traits or story. It manages to keep the focus on Neil and his abilities and whether or not he will win over the heart of his crush Catherine. But in doing this it also waters down the threat of imminent destruction from the aliens. Australians and British fans will appreciate the humour and even though it’s not a full on, live action Monty Python reunion, it’s probably the closest we’ll get.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 85 minutes
Absolutely Anything is out in Australian cinemas 19 November 2015 through Icon Films Australia