What would you do if you could do absolutely anything? This is the question writer/director and Monty Python alum Terry Jones posits in his movie Absolutely Anything, but what he really should have asked is, “Do I have anything funny or even remotely interesting to add to this age old premise?”
And by age old premise I do mean age old, this movie is loosely based on an 1898 short story by H.G. Wells called The Man Who Could Work Miracles, which was later made in to a movie of the same name back in 1936. This time out there are no divine powers giving an average Joe being unlimited powers, instead the “gift” comes by way of a group of alien supreme beings. The wishes don’t go quite as our hero expects, and merry hijinks ensue. Those of you who haven’t read the short story, or seen the original movie, you will have probably at least heard of Jim Carrey`s Bruce Almighty,which is basically the same idea, though it replaced supreme beings with Morgan Freeman. For his entry Terry Jones goes with Intergalactic Council of Superior Beings instead of God or Angels.
The movie introduces us to disillusioned schoolteacher Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg), who dreams of becoming a famous author, but he has not been able to finish even the one book he is working on. He is in love with his downstairs neighbour Catherine (Kate Beckinsale), who works for a cable network show about books, and she is also disillusioned by the cynical nature of her job. Her boss Fenella (Joanna Lumley) has authors on her chat show only to make fun of them, and to make matters worse Catherine has to contend with a stalker ex-boyfriend (Rob Riggle), who insist they are destined to be together. Over lunch Neil and best friend Ray (Sanjeev Bhaskar) discuss what they would do if they could do “Absolutely Anything” – you could start a drinking game with the amount of times someone says the title of this movie – but due to the machinations of the aforementioned Intergalactic Council of Superior Beings, (voiced by John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, and Terry Jones) this actually comes to pass, and Neil suddenly has the ability to do absolutely anything. Turns out these Superior Beings, upon the discovery of our Voyager probe, decided to test whether Earth should be destroyed by giving one random Earthling absolute power.
Neil has ten days to show the aliens that Earthlings can use absolute power for good rather than evil, but before realizing he has any kind of power Neil accidentally blows up his classroom of unruly children. Once he understands what is going on he wishes for all those dead to now be alive, and this of course results in every person who has ever died to start crawling out of their graves. And that is the major thrust of this movie, Neil basically has the infinite Monkey’s Paw. Anything he wishes for will be taken literally, and things will go horribly wrong…or at least not quite the way he intended. When he asks for a larger penis he gets one so big he collapses under its wait, he then asks for a great body and he finds himself with the figure of a female supermodel. He then tries to correct that by asking for the body of a “Great Man.”
That’s comedy folks. Eventually he gets the buff bod, with six pack abs he wanted, but then we never see him with that body again. Did he decide being physically fit was too much work? Or was he worried his sudden fitness would freak out his friends? These and many more issues are introduced and as quickly abandoned, to never be addressed again. And this is one of the films crucial missteps, almost all the thing he wishes for are just for that “in the moment” site gag, and not towards anything noble as advancing character or the bloody plot. We quickly learn that his abilities include being able to alter people mentally; he turns gruff headmaster (Eddie Izzard) into a Neil Superfan, and makes one of his fellow female teachers worship his friend Ray, but in a plot convenient moment the device the aliens use to grant him these powers breaks, so when Neil wishes for Catherine to love him he is unaware that she is actually sleeping with him of her own volition.
You see a drunken Catherine was urged by her friend to just run upstairs and jump Neil, in a scene that is less believable than any letter from Penthouse forum. Now when Catherine learns that Neil has the ability to manipulate people she is horrified, and she flees because there is no way you can be in a relationship with a person who can turn you into anything they want. This the single most honest scene in the entire movie. I won’t get further into spoilers – not that anything could spoil this unfunny mess – but just so you know eventually Neil will learn the true meaning of Christmas…or something like that. To be honest I may have nodded off towards the end.
This is the first film Terry Jones has directed in almost twenty years, and it shows, the plot is almost non-existent, as its just there to string a bunch of CGI gags together, and there is a almost complete lack of humor, which considering the cast involved here, this is the real crime. This is not something you expect from a film by one of the original Monty Pythoners, as not only does it star the brilliantly funny Simon Pegg but it has the last performance of the late great Robin Williams (he voices Neil’s dog Dennis), and includes the entire Python gang, for probably their last time together on film. That makes this movie not only a crime against cinema but possibly against humanity itself.