Director: Terry Jones; Screenwriters: Terry Jones, Gavin Scott; Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Rob Riggle, Robin Williams, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones; Running time: 85 minutes; Certification: 12A
The premise of Absolutely Anything will be familiar to fans of South Park. In one particularly brilliant episode of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s irreverently astute show, “Pinewood Derby”, a self-professed intergalactic bank robbing alien called Baby Fark McGee-zax (which is of no relevance but is too good to ignore) lands on Earth to take everyone hostage while forcing Stan and Randy to recreate the warp speed that drew him there in the first place, so that he can make good his escape with his massive haul of space cash. It turns out that *spoiler alert* it’s all an elaborate set-up to test humanity’s morals and determine whether our species is worthy of entering the intergalactic federation of planets. Absolutely Anything is virtually the same set-up.
At the beginning of the film we’re shown old news clippings of a Voyager craft being launched into space with detailed drawings of human beings and directions to Earth, followed by intermittent shots of the craft drifting delicately through empty space (oddly bringing to mind early sequences from Jason Reitman’s Men, Woman & Children; about the only tangible comparison between the two). When the Voyager gets picked up by an alien spacecraft, the ETs aboard decide to test the planet called Earth from which it came by giving just one individual the ability to do absolutely anything for ten days, and monitor the balance between ‘for good’ and ‘for evil’. Cue Simon Pegg’s Neil (and a good Sarah Palin gag), a struggling writer who’s fed up with his job and in love with the girl upstairs, played by the ever-glamorous Kate Beckinsale.
While not quite up to scratch with The Holy Grail or Life Of Brian (even if it borrows the “messiah” joke to decent effect), Terry Jones is funny and clever enough to squeeze some decent gags from a practically limitless premise. In fact, he can pretty much do absolutely anything with it… The way in which the power Pegg is bestowed with takes everything he says completely literally is, at times, hilarious…and surprisingly raunchy for a 12A. Whether asking to be well endowed or have everyone who ever died (everyone) be not dead, there’s some great slapstick in here. All helped, certainly, by the fact that Pegg is always so watchable. He’s one of those actors who really doesn’t have to do much to be funny. The mannerisms and expressions are enough to crack smiles all over an audience.
Then there’s Robin Williams, too soon departed, channeling the gleaming, loquacious spirit of Aladdin’s Genie in a cute little dog. It still hurts that he’s gone. Nobody has ever had quite the same spark, and probably nobody ever will.
Unfortunately it then all begins to fall apart, slowly but surely. The whole thing just feels like it has one joke to tell, a joke that’s hilarious the first time you hear it but wears thin on repeat recitals. The plot never really goes anywhere, instead just jumping from one slapstick situation to another to cater to the silliness of Neil’s predicament. Any movement we do see just feels too constructed and contrived – the aforementioned possibilities of the premise might allow for some funny gags, but it also stunts the development of the narrative and stretches credulity.
Yes, this is *just* a silly movie with talking dogs and aliens voiced by Monty Python gifting someone with supernatural powers, and it should be regarded as such, but that doesn’t completely exonerate it from the lack of basic story structure. The fact that the main character can literally do anything must feel completely wonderful for the writer in the first instance, but it ends up making them a bit lazy. Everything is just too convenient. It’s a flick of the wrist rather than characters getting us to the next scene; problems in Neil’s life stay problems because he occasionally mysteriously forgets about his powers.
Nevertheless, while it may need more framework and general oomph, Absolutely Anything is fun and frothy; perfectly serviceable for an easy-viewing, cheap laugh kind of night. If nothing else, the credits sequence of Robin Williams running wacky lines is enough to leave everyone feeling a little bit warmer (and sadder) inside.
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