This review originally appeared in issue 115 of The Pembrokeshire Herald, published 11 September 2015
Suppose you were gifted with the power to do absolutely anything with a mere wave of your hand, what would you do with that gift? What ethical dilemmas would it present? What unforeseen circumstances might such a phenomenon create? And – because this is set on Planet Romcom – how could it aid and abet your desire to snare the girl you’ve been admiring from afar?
This is the basic premise of Absolutely Anything, the new movie written and directed by Monty Python’s Terry Jones. As one-fifth of the surviving Pythons, Jones has assembled an impressive cast featuring go-to everyman and king of geek chic, Simon Pegg, the luminous Kate Beckinsale, Python fanboy and genius stand-up Eddie Izzard, not to mention guest roles for all five of the surviving members of Monty Python and the late Robin Williams, in his last role before his tragic suicide last year.
For all that stellar casting, Absolutely Anything is a modest, small-scale romantic comedy that reflects the whimsical, kind-hearted nature of its creator. A conglomerate of aliens (voiced by the five Pythons) bestow a wish-fulfilment power on one poor sap (Pegg) to assess the worthiness of planet Earth before deciding whether or not to destroy it. This leads to, in time honoured fashion, an escalating series of events that pile-up “with hilarious consequences” until our hero is forced to take stock of the responsibilities and consequences his new powers have created, before he can (again, as convention dictates) get the girl in the final reel.
As this scenario would imply, this is not a reinvention of the wheel, although some of the predictable tropes are gently subverted, the issues of actions and consequences are acknowledged, and there are a good many of laughs along the way. It’s very much the epitome of the light, frothy, feelgood rom com, and it is to its credit that it does not outstay its modest 90 minutes runtime (It was a delight to watch a film that does not outstay the endurance of the average human bladder, in this day of bloated blockbusters).
Pegg turns in one of his more assured and likeable performances in a non-Edgar Wright-directed movie, although he’s fairly by-the-book, and one would like to see him stretch himself more as these roles have become very much his stock in trade – it’s basically the same character he’s played in Run Fatboy Run and other mainstream movies of that ilk.
It’s not a Monty Python film despite the team’s group billing on the posters – Cleese is officious and stentorian, Palin is cuddly, Idle pops up to cash his cheque, and Gilliam is the grotesque – and that’s to its credit: I was one of the thousands who got to witness the Python team’s successful reunion at the 02 last summer, and for me this another cherry on the cake. Having reclaimed their rightful status as the Beatles of comedy, this is another victory lap, and is harmless and inconsequental enough to not be a stain on their legacy.
Major props go to Robin Williams, who voices Pegg’s puppy Dennis – I’m very soppy about dogs and Williams’ faithful mutt articulates every doggy’s endearingly devoted qualities. Cleese’s alien nails it when he observes, “I like the dog. It’s the humans I can’t stand.”
There’s a few nice nods towards the cast’s legacies – a brief zombie interlude reminds us of the classic Shaun Of The Dead, the “cult of Ray” (No relation to the Frank Black album) is a nice nod towards the misguided devotion of the gourd-worshippers in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, while the sci-fi interludes with the Pythons (inhabiting a mothership that resembles the Nestene Consciousness on the cover of a certain late 70s Dr Who paperback) has a flavour of Douglas Adams, who collaborated with the Pythons before becoming the greatest hitchhiker in the galaxy.
Despite its A-list cast, it doesn’t feel like a “Big” movie which is perhaps why it recieved a lukewarm critical reception. In fact it feels more like something BBC2 would show on Boxing Day, when you’re full of minced pies and cold mini sausage rolls and in the mood for some feelgood fare.
All in all, Absolutely Anything is nothing earth-shattering or revolutionary, but by the same token it’s something that is welcome in our cinematic diet – a benign, daft, frivolous, soppy slice of entertainment that makes you forget about your cares for ninety minutes.