In the summer of 2014, Robin Williams unexpectedly passed away, which drew attention to what became his final film, a sci-fi comedy that had Williams voicing a talking dog. Written and directed by Terry Jones, Absolutely Anything features the filmmaker’s fellow Monty Python members as a judgmental alien race that awards absolute power to a single creature to determine if their planet is worthy of existence or destruction. Simon Pegg stars as the Earthling awarded the ability to do “absolutely anything” with the wave of his hand, including making his adoring dog talk. With the title now available on Netflix, I gave Absolutely Anything a watch, and discovered it’s less funny and way more sexist and rapey than you might imagine.
Aiming for irreverent, Jones’s script is full of off-color jokes, including Williams’s talking dog repeatedly calling the female lead a “bitch,” and the Pythons’ aliens referring to each other by women’s names, as if that’s the height of hilarity. But the cringe-inducing “comedy” comes in the plot’s central love story, where compromised consent is treated like a gag or a quirky hurdle to romance.
Pegg plays Neil, a teacher and aspiring author who dreams of professional success and winning the heart of his hot downstairs neighbor Catherine (Kate Beckinsale). So, when Neil discovers he has the power to bend the world to his will, he flaps his hand and requests that Catherine fall “madly in love” with him. And boom. Just like that, there she is on his doorstep, ready for a night of passionate sex. Now to make this less gross, Jones’s script throws in some alien interference. The extraterrestrial tech glitched, so Neil’s command didn’t actually have any power over Catherine. She just happened to choose that moment to upgrade their interactions from polite neighborly banter to full-on fucking. It’s bad screenwriting, not rape. But here’s the thing: NEIL DOESN’T KNOW THAT.
As the plot continues, we’re meant to root for Neil and Catherine’s love, when as far as Neil knows, it began because he compromised her consent with his incredible powers. More disturbing, the movie recognizes that doing such a thing is vile. Earlier in the film, Neil’s friend Ray (Sanjeev Bhaskar) is rejected by a colleague named Dorothy, who doesn’t find his creeping on her alluring. Imagining what he’d do if he has absolute power, Ray tells Neil he’d make Dorothy “worship the ground (he) walked on.” To which, Neil says, “What even if she thought you’re a little shit? Come on, Ray. That’d be taking unfair advantage of an innocent girl.”
Later, they revisit this conversation, and Ray once more brings up his wish to be worshipped. This time Neil scoffs, “You wouldn’t be so cruel!” And yet, Neil ultimately wishes exactly this for Ray. Thankfully, this doesn’t lead to sexual assault because the alien tech takes the wish very literally. So instead of Dorothy wanting to fuck Ray, she forms a cult around him. Still, even after recognizing that such an act would be “cruel,” Neil robs two women of their consent. First Dorothy, and then Catherine. Because that first hook-up with Catherine isn’t the only time he tried to use his powers to thwart her sexual agency.
Absolutely Anything suggests that Neil is not that bad, because sure he believes he compromised the consent of some women, but he’s not the worst fish in this repulsive sea of men. At least he’s not as creepy as Ray. And then there’s Neil’s rival for Catherine’s love. Grant (Rob Riggle) is an obnoxious and trigger-happy American military man who is a stalker and catcaller. He’s way worse that Neil—the film seems to argue—because at least Neil’s a nice guy, who wanted to make love to Catherine (even against her wishes), but not “be madly, deeply in love with Colonel Grant and leap on him like a tigress hungry for sex.” That’s way different right? Not so much. But it doesn’t matter anyway because Neil will wish for this too.
When Grant holds a gun to his head, Neil wishes for Catherine to lustily jump on his captor, using her as a diversion for his escape. Then to add insult to sexual assault, Neil turns Grant into a corgi, who continues to make out with Catherine for a bit. Yeah. This is a movie where Kate Beckinsale plays the love interest who is not only sexually assaulted through sci-fi shenanigans but also has to make out with a dog.
There’s one moment where Absolutely Anything almost becomes truly aware of the horrors it’s unfurled here. Once Catherine discovers the truth about Neil and his powers, she doubts her feelings for him, fearful that she was under his power then too. “I’m never going to know,” she explains. “How can any woman love a man who can make her do whatever he wants any second, every day, forever? I’m sorry, Neil. I could never love you. Not for a million years.” Spoilers: she totally can. Neil gives up his powers. So, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter that he maybe raped her. That’s the movie’s idea of “happy” ending.
All this means Absolutely Anything is a supremely disturbing and disappointing “comedy.” Not only does it once more make a hero of the dreaded Nice Guy, who feels he is owed sex with the woman he desires just because he is attracted to her, but also it boasts so many men of comedy we admire, including Williams, the Pythons, and Pegg. And yet it’s lazy, stupid, and unapologetically misogynistic. And we can’t just excuse any of them their part in it, because even if we imagine none of them had a full script, each of them gave voice to gags that are at best tired, and at worst abhorrent.