ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. Starring: Simon Pegg, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Robin Williams, and Kate Beckinsale. Directed by Terry Jones. Rated M (Coarse language, sexual references and violence). 85 min.
This British sci-fi comedy brings together the living members of The Monty Python Company. They are joined by Robin Williams in the last film that he made before he died.
This is a feature film, the first the Python group has made after their "Meaning of Life" in 1983. It is directed by one of the five remaining members of the Python group, Terry Jones. The last appearance of the Monty Python Comedy group was in an ensemble, variety performance, filmed on stage in "Monty Python Live Mostly" in 2014.
In typical zany Monty Python style, a bunch of eccentric, power-crazed mischievous aliens (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) watch a disaffected British school teacher, Neil Clarke (Simon Pegg) from their vantage point in outer space. Cleese is the chief alien, Pailin is the kind alien, Gilliam is the nasty alien, and Jones voices the scientific alien.
On Earth, Neil is teaching in a failing secondary school. With help from his band of watchers in space, he suddenly finds that he has the ability to do whatever he wants. He realises that he has this ability when the classroom of especially difficult schoolchildren, which he fantasises should be vaporised, is destroyed suddenly after a loud explosion.
The group of Space watchers had decided they needed to select for assessment one earthling at random by giving him special powers, and they pick Neil Clarke. They are particularly interested to see whether the person they single out will use his special powers for good or evil. They want to see what a mess he will make of things, which is exactly what happens. Neil has a loyal, talking dog, called Dennis, which is voiced by Robin Williams, and it is Dennis who saves the day.
The Python group are world famous for their surreal humour, and it is arguable that the group is the most famous and influential comedy group of all time. Monty Python humour is unique. It is irreverent, confronting, absurd, surreal, politically incorrect, and it constantly skirts the line between biting satire and mocking self-parody. In one scene in this film, Neil sits at his dinner table with Dennis, his talking dog. They both have napkins on, food on their dinner plates, and they talk together about the state of the world and human affairs.
It was clear in the 2014 staged depiction of variety performances in "Monty Python Live Mostly" that many of the Python team are now too old to easily handle the mobility demands of good satirical comedy sketches. This movie avoids the problem by conveying their wit by voice from outer space. Their wit stays fresh. The science fiction theme is a just a convenient mechanism to display Monty Python humour unobtrusively, and it works.
In this movie, there is virtually no sense of cohesion in how the plot works out, and logic never rules the course of events. That really doesn't matter when the group is back delivering its unique brand of comedy. On earth, Kate Beckinsale gives an endearing performance as Neil's one true love, who isn't at all impressed by Neil's new-found powers. She makes the telling point that Neil needs to be true to himself to win her over, and the sensible moral message that "absolute power always has the potential to corrupt" gets a forceful airing as the film comes to its conclusion.
This is an entertaining film that captures the special fascination of Monty Python humour and wit. The film will have limited appeal, but it is zany, unpredictable and surreal enough to be enjoyed greatly by diehard fans of the Monty Python team.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 19th. 2015.