UK, 2015, 85 minutes, Colour.
Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Rob Riggle, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, Robert Bathurst, Sanjeev Bhasker, Meera Syal.
Voices of: Robin Williams, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Pailin, Terry Jones.
Directed by Terry Jones.
The Monte Python Flying Circus was extraordinarily popular in the 1970s and the 1980s, with their television series as well as films like Jabberwocky, The Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life. They were always very talented with short sketches, and their films really included a succession of sketches. This is the case with Absolutely Anything, based on the script by Terry Jones but not produced when he wrote it, now resurrected and the opportunity for some Python humour as well as the reuniting of the team to provide eccentric voices.
Audiences stumbling into the film and not aware of Python humour may be puzzled. The fans may not think it is one of the greatest but, nevertheless, there is quite some enjoyment.
The basic plot is one of those “what-if?” stories where a character is given unlimited powers to effect anything they desire. All they have to do is formulate their wish and wave their hand – and there it is. The character who receives this power is Neil (Simon Pegg), a high school teacher (with an impossibly unruly class and a head teacher who puts down) who lives by himself, is infatuated by the television producer upstairs, Catherine (Kate Beckinsale), who quite likes him but… nothing special.
In the meantime we go into the realm of Terry Gilliam animation, into a world beyond the stars, to be introduced by some rather farcical hideous-looking characters, an interplanetary Council who have the power to test out a human to see whether they want Earth or not. And the joke is that these ugly looking creatures, who mistakenly all have girls names, are voiced by the Python team. The President of the Council is, needless to say, John Cleese with his dominating and vigorous voice. Eric Idle pops up now and then as does Terry Jones – though not always easy to pick Michael Pailin.
We go into space now and again but most of the action focuses on Neil who is a hapless individual but rather enjoys having the power to achieve anything he wishes. Like Dudley Moore in Bedazzled, granted many wishes, he makes some inept choices, especially when he wants a better image and sexual prowess for himself. But, by and large, there are some amusing variations on the wish-fulfilment thing, getting rid of his class by an explosion but able to restore them so that they all are absolutely delighted when they have to read a whole chapter of Dickens quietly.
There is also his friend Ray, Sanjeev Bhaskar, who has an infatuation with one of the teachers – but is alarmed when Neil wishes her to worship Ray and she starts a sect, with touches of the Hari Krishna. There is also the American Grant, Rob Riggle, who is absolutely obsessed with Catherine, making life a misery, but tricking Neil into giving him the powers with, of course, dastardly results.
But, there in the foreground is Neil’s pet dog, Dennis. He is voiced by Robin Williams in one of his last roles, always amusing, a touch of the frenetic as well as sardonic quips – although it is Dennis who is wise enough to think out a solution to the whole problem.
While the film does not give its audience anything it absolutely wants, it does give 90 minutes or so amusement.
1. Monty Python humour, 20th century, into the 21st century? Terry Jones, script and direction? The Pythons and episodic programmes? See, absurd, cosmic, the meaning of life? What if… And consequences? The overview of the cosmic journey?
2. Teamwork, animation, the voices, the style, into nations…?
3. The title, power, wishes, stakes, consequences, self-focused, wishes for others?
4. The cosmic council, angry at the world, testing all the planets and pupils (God-image, Evil-image)? The meetings, the appearances, the voices, their language, into English with Python accents, girls’ names and their not realising this? The hierarchy in Council, interchanges, the decision about Earth, the choice of Neil, testing him, the surveillance, their interpretations of his behaviour, the decision for destruction, the humour of the phone numbers one, two, three, and then finally briefer?
5. Neil his dream, Catherine making the award, the discussions, affirmation, the dogs coming in, the dogs upsetting everything, his waking up? Ordinary citizen, his unit, his friendship with Dennis? Going to school, his bike and its being smashed – by Terry Jones as the driver? Teaching, and his unruly class? The Head and his insults? Ray and his friendship, wanting to be the dream man of the aloof teacher? Their meals, discussions? The teacher and her obsession, her followers and pedestalising Ray and the effect on him, trying to escape?
6. Catherine, her work, television, the books, the producer and arrogance, anti-books, the gossip program, attacking authors, the interview with the author and embarrassing him? The producer and his liking for gossip? Her ideas, wanting serious program, the producer hitting on her? Her girlfriend, their outings, discussing their lives? Grant, appearing, his sessions, continued pursuit? Reacting to his wish that she loved him, wanting to have her own life (and her objection to any infringement of freedom)? The drink with her friend, going upstairs to Neil, the approach, his thinking it was his will and the reality, in the morning and coming back? Hearing Dennis as police, presuming that Neill was gay? Being pursued by Grant, finding the truth with Neil, going to his room, his good wishes, the wish and Catherine forced to love Grant? Her being freed? The end and her choice to be with Neil?
7. The wishes, the class to disappear and the explosion? Reversing this? Dennis and the turds walking away? The whiskey going back into the bottle? The bottle hopping on the streets, smashing the window, the police, the disappearance? Restoring the children? Ray and his wanting the teacher to admire him? Neil, in the mirror, his false wishes, penis, body, macho?
8. Dennis, the dog, Robin Williams’ vice? Barking, chatting, getting excited about the doorbell, referring to Catherine as a bitch, his liking biscuits, saying dogs did not want their stomachs tickled? The threats to his life from Grant? The transformation, Grant turned into a corgi – and the two dogs together? Dennis, his wisdom, the best wish, the destruction of the source of the wishes?
9. The nice wishes, the class quiet and studious, wanting to read the whole chapter Dickens, the principal and his being genial?
10. Grant, American, military, obsessed, continually turning up, his antics, with Catherine and her rejection, with Neil, the dog? Adapting, making Neil grant his every wish, money, power, Neil and his fears, dressed as a woman? Catherine arriving, made to love Grant? The change and Dennis’ help?
11. Dennis, power, the good wishes the end?