Hatewatch #5: Absolutely Anything (Does Simon Pegg need a new agent?)
In this regular feature, I am travailing through the world of bad films to find hidden gems, terrible disappointments, and the worst of the worst. Films are rated on a scale of: ‘Good’, ‘Not Bad’, ‘So Bad It’s Good’, ‘Bad’, ‘Boring’, and ‘THE FUCKING WORST’.
Away from the Cornetto trilogy and big Hollywood blockbusters, Simon Pegg has an awful track record. He’s starred in forgettable British comedies (Run Fatboy Run, Burke and Hare), mediocre American comedies (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), and obscure indie films nobody saw (Big Nothing, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, Kill Me Three Times). His most recent British comedy, Absolutely Anything, is yet another blemish on an already inconsistent CV.
Telling the story of a man gifted omniscient powers by a group of aliens, Absolutely Anything is directed by former Monty Python-performer Terry Jones, and stars Pegg, the reunited Monty Python team, the late Robin Williams (in his final role), and talented performers like Eddie Izzard, Kate Beckinsale, and Rob Riggle. Jones revealed in interviews that he’d been writing the script for twenty years prior to the film’s release. After sitting through Absolutely Anything, I believe he may have wasted those two decades.
After a jokeless exposition dump of an opening scene, in which information from the Earth is blasted into space, we are introduced to hapless teacher/hopeless writer Neil (Pegg) in a predictable dream sequence in which his interview with attractive-but-unattainable neighbour Kate Beckinsale is interrupted by hundreds of dogs invading in a scene eerily reminiscent of the chilling opening to White God. After he wakes up, Neil’s daily life establishes him as a loser with no hope in sight; berated by neighbours, rejected by his crush, and disrespected by his colleagues and pupils.
Pegg is a charming screen presence; there’s a reason he’s been so successful since his big break in Spaced. He’s got handsome-but-harmless features, excellent comedy chops, and, despite his huge success, still feels like that geeky comic book fan you went to high school with. There’s a reason films like Run Fatboy Run (a shrug in cinematic form) made £30 million at the box office. People will watch Pegg in (pardon the pun) absolutely anything. The fact that Absolutely Anything made less than £3 million is troubling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was still a big success, given its cheap televisual look. Pegg is pretty game in the leading role, but he can’t make gold out of the turd of a screenplay.
After fifteen minutes and only one laugh (which comes from Eddie Izzard, whose off-kilter line reading makes everything funny), Jones returns to space to reveal a group of hideously grotesque aliens (voiced by the Monty Python cast) receiving the Earth capsule. The aliens certainly weren’t designed to sell merchandise, and their strangled voices only make them more unpleasant. After a cute visual gag in which the aliens mock all the other planets who have sent them capsules, the plot finally rears its ugly head; the aliens are the deciders of the universe, and they give one human Godlike powers to see the goodness of mankind. Narrowly avoiding Sarah Palin (another decent visual gag), they grant Neil the power to do “absolutely anything”. It’s heartwarming to hear the Monty Python members back together, but the aliens outstay their welcome immediately.
If the plot sounds like Bruce Almighty, that’s because it is. A frustrated middle aged white man is given powers by a supreme being and uses them to tit around for a bit before trying to do good, while romancing a supermodel. Swap ‘God’ for ‘aliens’, and ‘TV anchorman dating Jennifer Aniston’ to ‘high school teacher with a dog’, and they’re the same film. However, Bruce Almighty had a consistent tone (raunchy-but-harmless comedy), and used Godlike powers to create entertaining spectacle (Jim Carrey’s Bruce lassoed the moon and caused meteor showers). How does Neil use his omnipotent powers?
In the film’s worst gag, he yells “Screw you!” at a van driver (played by Terry Jones, in the least dignified director cameo since Django Unchained) and makes him jizz in his pants. In the film’s second worst gag, he wishes cute dog Dennis would return his chewed up novel, and Dennis pukes it back up. In the film’s darkest ‘joke’, Neil wishes his next class would blow up, and – what do you know? – our lovable hero has just murdered thirty teenagers in a horrible explosion. Talk about a sympathetic lead. Throughout the film, Neil will eat dog food, revive the dead (a genuinely unnerving horror scene), and wish for larger genitalia, which leads to the surprisingly offensive line, “I meant a white one!”.
Murdering lots of children and making an old man cum speaks to the bizarre tonal problems which ruin an already poor comedy. Absolutely Anything looks like a mid-90’s kids show, and every actor gives a hammy pantomime performance, yet the film is littered with endless swearing, scatological humour, and mean spirited jokes about women, gays, and other easy targets. When Neil uses his powers to give Dennis the voice of Robin Williams, it hints at the harmless comedy fun we could have seen. Yet as soon as this finishes, we’re back to weird jokes about demented cults, one night stands, and comical misunderstandings about sexuality.
Along with Pegg’s arsing around, we get two subplots, both weird in their own right. Sanjeev Baskhar (one of the four horsemen of mediocre British comedy) plays Pegg’s creepy, sex-obsessed co-worker. As a troubling act of friendship, Pegg makes Baskhar’s crush worship him; this leads to her forming a cult devoted to him before trying to hang him in a sacrifice. It’s nonsensical and only exists to fill up the already meagre 80-minute running time; the ‘highlight’ is Baskhar being turned into a sausage, and that’s about as funny as a man being turned into a sausage.
In the other subplot, Beckinsale battles with army general ex-boyfriend Rob Riggle, mugging frantically as an obnoxiously loud, bullying stalker. Beckinsale is something of an underrated talent (as her leading role in Love & Friendship has proven), but she’s only here as love interest and her scenes are dominated by Riggle chewing the scenery. It’s no surprise to learn all three plots eventually meet in an uncomfortable scene in which Riggle kidnaps Neil and forces him to commit atrocities for his own amusement, all while holding cute little dog Dennis at gunpoint. It manages to be dark, childish, irritating, and unfunny in equal measures – the film’s worst qualities all in one.
With only fifteen minutes to go, Jones begins to ponder big questions. Neil tries to save the world in every way he can think of and only makes things worse, learning the lesson Bruce Almighty taught us over a decade ago. The film somehow gets darker when Neil and his dog try to commit suicide. Luckily, both survive the fall just long enough to defeat the aliens, turn Riggle into a dog (which at least leads to a Some Like It Hot reference), and help Pegg win a date with Beckinsale, in a finale so cheery it feels imported from a much more enjoyable comedy.
What on earth was Terry Jones trying to do with Absolutely Anything? It looks, acts, and feels like a zany family film about an ordinary man given extraordinary powers, yet features jokes about black dicks, dead children, and sacrificial murder. One minute, Pegg is bantering with his lovable dog and innocently pursuing his neighbour, the next he’s trying to kill himself while his dog has a gun pointed at its head. Too childish for adults, too dark for children; Absolutely Anything is a terribly unfunny comedy that appeals to nobody in particular, and offers further proof that Simon Pegg really needs to find himself a new agent.
Final Verdict: BAD.
NEXT TIME ON HATEWATCH: Movie 43
By Harry J. Ford
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