WRITTEN REVIEW – Absolutely Anything (2015)
Directed by: Terry Jones
Written by: Terry Jones & Gavin Scott
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Rob Riggle, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Monty Python & Robin Williams
Music: George Fenton
Release Date: August 14th 2015
In terms of U.K.-born comedy groups, you’d have a hard time finding a group as revered, respected and admired as Monty Python. Created in the 1960s and originally consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin, Monty Python excelled in farcical and surreal comedy with a superb TV series, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. They also made two of the best comedy movies ever made, ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘ and ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian‘ and the pretty decent ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’. The group then disbanded in the 1980s leaving behind an incredible legacy of work.
But in recent years, the group have started to make a comeback. In 2005, ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘ got turned into a stage musical named “Spamalot” and surviving members (Palin, Jones, Gilliam, Cleese and Idle) had a comeback tour last year called “Monty Python Live (Mostly)”. Now the five are re-uniting again for ‘Absolutely Anything‘ directed and co-written by Terry Jones where they all lend their voices. Also lending his voice, for the final time, is legendary comic-actor Robin Williams who sadly passed away last year. There are a lot of eyes on ‘Absolutely Anything‘ hoping for it to be a great, modern comedy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite get there.
Neil Clarke (Pegg) is an ordinary human. He has a pet dog called Dennis, he has a crush on his neighbour Catherine (Beckinsale) and works day-in and day-out as a school teacher. But one day, he’s randomly selected by the Intergalactic Council of Superior Beings (all voiced by the Monty Python crew) to be given the power to do “Absolutely Anything” with a wave of his hand. If he uses these newfound powers for good, Earth will become a part of the Intergalactic Council. But if Neil uses the powers for evil, Earth will be destroyed. Neil must come to terms with these powers, but will he use them to save the Earth, or just use them for mundane things? Such as giving his dog Dennis the voice of Robin Williams.
‘Absolutely Anything‘ has a premise that is rife with possibilities; where the main character can literally do ANYTHING he wants with no restrictions. He can even influence free-will unlike Bruce/God from 2003’s ‘Bruce Almighty‘. The problem is that this is a low-budget comedy production with a tiny VFX budget and hardly any location work so a lot of the scope and scale of what Neil can do is incredibly limited. You can see the strings everywhere and the limitations of the production are on full display in ‘Absolutely Anything‘ meaning that this concept was hindered from the very start.
In terms of the character-arc that Neil has to go through, based on the premise it’s EXACTLY what you’d expect. Neil is given all these powers, he uses them selfishly, messes things up, realises he needs to use them for good and tries to do good. The movie does turn that story on its head right at the very end and the way Neil and Dennis confront the final obstacle concerning whether or not the Earth gets destroyed was genuinely inspired, but it takes around 80 minutes of predictability to get there. Despite ‘Absolutely Anything‘ only being 85 minutes long, the movie is filled with unnecessary padding, particularly concerning Kate Beckinsale’s character who is given a thankless role as a token woman who exists to be a prize for Neil to win. The scenes of her working for a BBC book-critique show that’s more interested in tearing down author’s than promoting their work goes absolutely nowhere and actually end up hurting the pacing and rhythm of Neil’s story.
A lot of the comedy from the film comes from how Neil’s powers manifest themselves. See, Neil just needs to verbally say what he wants, wave his hand and it’ll happen. But he needs to be incredibly specific with his wording as his instructions will be taken as literally as possible. That conceit takes the comedy a slight distance, but then you realise that ‘Absolutely Anything‘ has a complete lack of consequences. See, not only can Neil use his powers to do absolutely anything, but he can also use them to erase and fix the mistakes he’s made. Kill a classroom full of children (it’s just as awkwardly dark as it sounds),? No matter. Just wave your hand and it’ll be the day before and nothing will have happened. Cause the apocalypse while trying to reverse global warming? Don’t worry, Simon Pegg! Just wave your hand and it’ll all go back to an hour ago before you used your powers.
Going back to the ‘Bruce Almighty‘ comparison, there’s no sake of uncontrollable escalation because Neil’s powers prevent consequences and prevent him from confronting his mistakes when he can literally just wave them away. If the story had given him a limitation on his powers, even if it was just a slight one like not being able to un-do his previous actions and not be able to influence other human beings, then that would add some potential drama and something for Neil to overcome. But in ‘Absolutely Anything‘, when things start to go wrong in Neil’s personal life and people start to resent him and get angry at him, there’s no reason for Neil to not just wave his hand and say “Make Kate Beckinsale not be angry at me anymore!”, but he just doesn’t do it.
And when it comes to the main threat being the Intergalactic Council threatening to destroy Earth (which none of the characters on Earth are aware of), the movie pulls a mismanaged bait-and-switch by mixing up the morality of the aliens judging the planet, as their interpretation of what is “good” and what is “evil” is incredibly skewed. I get that it’s meant to stack the odds against Neil and the citizens of Earth, but because none of them are actually aware that they’re under scrutiny then it’s a odd aspect to include.
As for the cast, Simon Pegg is reliably good here and a lot of the jokes work because of his down-to-earth delivery, natural likeability and his awesome charm as well as the fact that you just want to give him a massive hug for merely existing.
The Simon Pegg/Trilbee bromance saga continues.
But he’s playing a similar character as he did last year in ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness‘ where he wants a better life when, really, his life actually isn’t that bad. He has a nice apartment, a steady job, Selene from ‘Underworld‘ has a crush on him etc. Could things be better? Yeah. But from the beginning ‘Absolutely Anything‘ doesn’t stack the odds against Neil enough for him to instantly use his powers for self-improvement once he gets them.
Anyway, Kate Beckinsale has nothing to work with, Joanna Lumley has the same issue, there was no reason to get Eddie Izzard to play the role of the Headmaster at the school Neil works at and Rob Riggle…Rob Riggle really shouldn’t be in movies. He’s not very good in them and he has, by far, the worst character as an Ex-Marine who has an obsessive, stalker-esque crush on Kate Beckinsale. Yeah, he’s an obnoxious creep, but when he discovers Neil’s powers, he has plans to become a tyrannical dictator of the world and forces Neil to turn all police uniforms pink and give every British man big ears and duck feet (Yes. That really happens), otherwise he’ll shoot Dennis. Where did that sudden shift come from?
The Monty Python crew voice the Intergalactic Council, but they really don’t get much to do and the alien designs are just a jumbled mess and not particularly creative. I don’t see why they couldn’t have just made them appear in live-action in funny costumes or something as opposed to half-baked CGI effects. It would have been a lot cheaper and probably a lot funnier.
Apart from Simon Pegg, the two to come out best in ‘Absolutely Anything‘ are Sanjeez Bhaskar as Neil’s friend from work, Ray, who has a crush on a co-worker and Neil makes her literally “worship” Ray and she starts a religion around him (easily the funniest recurring gag the film has) and also Robin Williams as Dennis. Now, it may seem like an obligation to say that Robin Williams is great in his final role, but he is really funny as Dennis. The writing isn’t nearly as clever as something like ‘Up‘, but ‘Absolutely Anything‘ does get a lot of mileage around the concept of a dog being able to speak English and it’s just really funny hearing a dog with Robin Williams’ voice saying “I love you, Neil! I want to shag your leg!”.
Also, if you watch the movie, stick around through the credits because they overlay footage of Robin Williams in the recording booth voicing Dennis and improvising his way through sound-effects. It’s a small, but really thoughtful tribute to a wonderful comedian.
Speaking of Dennis, ‘Absolutely Anything‘ has a massive tonal problem and just knowing WHO the intended audience is. How on earth did this movie get a BBFC certificate of 12A!? In an age where ‘A Good Day To Die Hard‘ can only get one f-bomb before becoming a 15 rated film, it’s amazing that ‘Absolutely Anything‘ can have at least 30 uses of the f-word, full-frontal female nudity (really), every insult under the sun and countless innuendo and can be rated 12A.
I know the BBFC are more qualified than I am, but if you have children under the age of 15, I would think twice before taking them to see ‘Absolutely Anything‘. But despite all of that, the movie still has a light comic tone, childish humour (see above; what Rob Riggle’s character uses the powers for) and a talking dog that poops and eats waffles. Who is ‘Absolutely Anything‘ for!?
Also, I have no clever transition for this segment but I feel the need to bring it up anyway. There’s a contrived inner-conflict arc for Neil because he believes that Kate Beckinsale only loves him because he waved his hand and said “Make Selene from ‘Underworld‘ fall madly in love with me!” (not the actual quote, but you catch my drift). Then Kate arrives at his door and the two have sex. But what Neil doesn’t know is that when he made the command, the device that gives him his power from the Intergalactic Council wasn’t working and was being repaired. So Neil doesn’t know if Kate really loves him or if it was the powers, as Kate actually does love him and actually came to his flat to sleep with him of her own accord at that very moment.
While this narrative digression goes nowhere, the movie wastes quite a bit of screen-time establishing that his powers aren’t working for a couple of minutes (not to mention wasting a lot of the VFX budget cutting back to the wholly CGI aliens in their wholly CGI spaceship). The screenwriting would have been much more efficient if Neil was talking and said something like “I can’t just make Selene from ‘Underworld‘ fall madly in love with me!”, then he waves his hand accidentally. Since Neil is still coming to grips with his powers, he isn’t aware that it didn’t work because he didn’t word it correctly. But since Selene from ‘Underworld‘ has just shown up at his door, he puts the two together and thinks it was his powers instead of a contrived malfunction that comes out of nowhere and only happens once in the movie.
There you go. A 10 second solution and no need to waste around 2-3 minutes and a couple of million pounds of the budget.
The movie tries to do some things visually interesting, including the entirely CGI aliens and their space-ship and how Neil’s powers come more from manipulating the objects around him as opposed to a *poof* teleportation effect. For example, he has his clothes come to life and get dressed on him as opposed to having his clothes just appear on him. But for anything more ambitious, the budget just isn’t there. Most of what Rob Riggle’s character effects is done entirely off-screen (he turns all traffic lights green and we just hear the sound effect of crashing cars in the distance) and all of the world-changing events that Neil does towards the end are summarised in news reports and terrible green-screen work. There’s also an incredibly botched bit of editing where the movie fades to black, then fades back to see a bank robbery go wrong. Then the story continues as normal. It’s tough to explain, but you’ll know the terrible editing job when you see it. The music by George Fenton also doesn’t leave much of an impression and the Kylie Minogue tie-in song “Absolutely Anything At All” is…not great.
‘Absolutely Anything‘ has a premise with limitless potential and a promising creative team, but it’s undercut by its own possibilities and attempts to coast by on its premise without doing anything interesting with it. Some of the comedy hits and a few cast members stand out, particularly Simon Pegg and the late Robin Williams, but the Monty Python collaboration feels arbitrary and the production values just aren’t there in order to fully get across the premise of Simon Pegg being able to do “Absolutely Anything”. It’s hardly a outright failure and thankfully it’s mercifully short, but when a movie like ‘Bruce Almighty‘ did it so much better over a decade ago, there’s really no reason to check this out.
I give ‘Absolutely Anything‘ 1 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 28th Aug 15