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Absolutely Anything

In the 1970s, Monty Python gave British comedy an injection of sublime surreality with four series of the Flying Circus, and the subsequent feature films. Four decades later, surviving members John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin drive a stake through the heart of British comedy with a woefully misconceived fantasy about a schoolteacher blessed with the power of eternal wish fulfilment. Directed by Jones and scripted by Gavin Scott, Absolutely Anything marks a reunion for the cult troupe, as well as the final screen role of Robin Williams as the voice of a shaggy dog with a penchant for biscuits and frottering the nearest human leg. On every count, it's a shambolic waste of talents including Eddie Izzard, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Joanna Lumley in instantly forgettable supporting roles. "Nobody's perfect," quips one character as the end credits roll and our suffering ends. That's an understatement for a gifted cast and crew, who struggle in vain to achieve even mediocrity over the course of 86 bewildering minutes. Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) is a disillusioned schoolteacher at a London comprehensive, who repeatedly clashes with the officious headmaster (Izzard). The teacher pines for downstairs neighbour Catherine (Kate Beckinsale), who works on a book review TV show that delivers "scandal, gossip and character assassination with a thin veneer of literary respectability". A quintet of crazy extra-terrestrials known as the Intergalactic Council of Superior Beings (voiced by Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones, Palin) conducts a wacky experiment on Earth by granting one human the power to do anything he wishes. They bestow this incredible gift on Neil, who initially abuses his power to make fellow teacher Miss Pringle (Emma Pierson) fall madly in love with best friend Ray (Bhaskar). Neil also allows his four-legged companion Dennis to communicate in English. As the godly dictates escalate out of control, Neil becomes a target for Catherine's psychotic ex-boyfriend, Colonel Grant (Rob Riggle). "Absolute power doesn't corrupt, it just drives you mad!" despairs the teacher. Meanwhile, the Intergalactic Council of Superior Beings witnesses the devastation with a mounting sense of disappointment and frustration. They are not alone. Absolutely Anything is a ghastly, unedifying mess that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Pegg fails to make his hapless hero sympathetic or likable, and he shares more screen chemistry with his glasses than a lovingly tousled Beckinsale. Misguided humour lurches wildly from the childish (big-eared police officers in lurid pink uniforms) to the twisted (the slaughter of 39 teenagers), punctuated by laughter-starved longueurs. One of the comedic highpoints of the film is two steaming dog turds, which magically come to life, leap into a toilet bowl and flush themselves to oblivion. Never has an image been more unintentionally apt.