Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) has just had his latest book published and already it is being proclaimed as a masterpiece, so at the launch he modestly accepts the praise as he is interviewed by the woman who lives in the flat below him, Catherine (Kate Beckinsale), but as he responds to her questions his voice is drowned out by the sound of barking, lots of barking, and the press room is suddenly filled with manic dogs, so he has no choice but to... wake up. Yes, it was all a dream, he isn't an award-winning author, he's a put-upon teacher who hates his job and couldn't get Catherine interested in him if he tried. But life is about to take a very strange turn when he catches the attention of not-so-friendly aliens.
Absolutely Anything was Terry Jones' very long in the planning science fiction comedy, a variation on the classic H.G. Wells story The Man Who Could Work Miracles (also turned into a film in the nineteen-thirties) that he said would be the final time he and his fellow Monty Pythons would ever work together on film, as a collective that was. This should have made it a bigger deal than it was, as the most it received was polite reviews and middling box office returns, but in spite of the year before seeing the troupe making a triumphant return to the stage, this sort-of-follow-up just didn't have the same cachet. Another reason it should have been more impressive news was that it contained Robin Williams' final performance.
He played the voice of Dennis, Neil's pet dog, who gains speech when Neil gains his powers. Those powers are granted by some aliens (with the voices of the Pythons) who are debating whether to destroy our planet or not, that old Day the Earth Stood Still dilemma, so to see if there’s anything redeemable about us at all they do what they usually do, which is grant one citizen the ability to make their every wish come true. Many wondered why Jones was essentially making a British variation on the Jim Carrey hit Bruce Almighty, but as said it was Wells he was inspired by, and that suited the sense of humour, where the Godlike demeanour of Neil was very much wedded to the personality of the average Brit, apologetic and bumbling.
Assuming that was an accurate depiction, as if the powers had gone to someone more forthright and go-getting, the jokes would not have been as effective. Not that Absolutely Anything was a laff riot, it started small and allowed itself to build to a more philosophical conclusion than the Hollywood effort, but that was to its benefit when the results were surprisingly charming in their peculiarly modest fashion. Indeed, where this could have been brash and obnoxious (and Neil does flirt with extreme selfishness when he realises what he can now do), it moved into far more likeable territory when our hapless hero twigs that with great power may come great responsibility, but also comes the recognition that it's not necessarily going to make you as happy as, say, the reciprocation of love.
Be that from Catherine or Dennis. Jones and his co-writer Gavin Scott nevertheless conjured up some goofy ideas of what Neil could wish for, and more importantly how those wishes could be subverted and basically ruined by unforeseen circumstances, be that thanks to not being aware of other factors affecting them or simply not saying what he wanted with enough specifics. Therefore we had the uncomplicated results of wishing to be more attractive and how that could go wrong (colleague Sanjeev Bhaskar winds up worshipped as a cult leader when Neil tries to do him a favour, much to his confusion), to grander ambitions like stopping war, solving world hunger and so on, which backfire in a series of news reports, both pithy and presumably economical to the budget. There was a streak of melancholy to this that pondered what one person could really do to eradicate the problems of the planet, as many do at some point in their life, and concluding even someone with the power to do anything doesn't have the answers, but that just made it more human. No classic, but underrated and genuinely sweet and funny in places. Music by George Fenton.