Absolutely Anything certainly isn’t the defining master work for any of its distinguished cast, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching this eclectic hodgepodge of surviving Monty Python members and others assemble for one last show. Directed by Terry Jones, those others include modern comedy masters Simon Pegg, Eddie Izzard, Rob Riggle, as well as the aforementioned Python crew (John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and, yes, Terry Jones). Even the late (and always great) Robin Williams appears in his final role – as a talking dog.
Seeing so many gifted performers from different eras, from both sides of the Atlantic, work within a Jones-penned screenplay is worth the intrigue. Thankfully, Absolutely Anything also provides enough laughs for an unabashed recommendation, especially for comedy fans of all ages.
A group of animated space aliens (all voiced by the Pythons) are deciding if earthlings are worthy of joining their elite group of superior beings. So, as a gesture of inclusion, they decide to grant special powers to one ordinary Earth creature and see how he uses his powers. If the chosen one chooses to use his new godlike gifts for the good of humanity, Earth will be allowed to enter the elite group. If the aliens disapprove, then Earth will be destroyed!
By random selection, the aliens grant school teacher, failed writer, and hopeless romantic Neil Clarke (Pegg) with the special powers. With the flick of his hand, he can make absolutely anything happen. But he must be careful: with great power comes great responsibly, after all. As a budding writer he years for more, especially the affections of his beautiful neighbor Catherine (Kate Beckinsale). His ignorance helps turn his little tricks into catastrophic results, especially for the state of Tennessee.
Yes, it’s largely the same gimmick and structure as other comedies like Bruce Almighty, Groundhog Day, Liar Liar and the rest. Hence, I won’t go through the plot construction because you’ve most likely seen it all before. But, that doesn’t mean Jones’ comedy doesn’t feel fresh. There are genuinely inspired elements at work here. For starters, Pegg’s character is a nice spin on the protagonist of this genre. Neil is unsuccessful yet a very likeable hero, rather than the usual successful yet very unlikeable hero, which gives the ‘lessons’ he learns here a different perspective.
This takes weight off the film from becoming a complex character study with a drastic shift in the protagonist’s personality. Now I’m not knocking that sort of seriousness in approach to character arcs in comedic storying. I love those movies. But Jones’ approach allows for broader range of humor because an extremely over-the-top silly gag could distract from deeper character development, which in addition probably better suits his impressive casts’ comedic strengths and sensibilities.
Additionally, the movie has an inventive use of special effects and animation. Reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s classic Python vignettes, the effects here are scaled back yet funny and effective. Physical and visual gags seem to be happening less and less in movies, and it was nice to see newer technology used to augment more traditional comedy stylings. Perhaps the best creation is a talking dog, Dennis, voiced by Robin Williams and endowed with a hankering for biscuits. Do I have to explain why that’s funny?
It’s not all funny business, however. The only disappointing effects are the aliens themselves. They don’t really add anything to the story. Maybe I was a little disappointed because having all the living Pythons reunited raised my expectations a little too high. But then again, really any scene not involving the magic powers don’t really work. Some scenes introducing Kate Beckinsale’s character are for example lame and unneeded. But for a movie only about 80-minutes long, I’ll take a few scenes of boredom.
Absolutely Anything is probably best served as a modern family film, at least for those really cool modern families into sarcastic British humor. There’s plenty of traditionally naughty humor as only the Brits can muster, but all playful and tastefully well done. It’s the rare comedy that both kids and adults can enjoy equally, and in their own way, possibly at the same time. Curiously, Rob Riggle plays Kate Beckinsale’s obsessive ex-boyfriend, and thus naturally the villainous foe of Simon Pegg, as an over-top deranged army man with a leg brace bragging about his security clearances. I assume this is the stereotype our friends across the pond have of us (i.e. Americans). Who can blame them I guess?