Curious, how in such a disappointing comedy, Bill Murray manages
to dash off a hilarious warm-up. The opening scenes of “Larger than Life,”
showing him as a third-rate motivational speaker, are right on target, with one
zinger after another aimed at after-dinner speakers who promise to remake your
life with touchy-feely slogans.
plays Jack Corcoran, whose trademark slogan is “Get Over It!” He shows a
banquet crowd how to unleash its hidden abilities by calling for volunteers to
make a human pyramid. His clients include the American Motion Upholstery Assn.
(reclining chairs), but his agents promise him some bigger fees, real soon.
Meanwhile, he's preparing to get married, urged on by his mom (Anita Gillette),
who has always told him his father drowned while saving helpless children.
true. A telegram arrives informing him of his father's death. “You mean I had a
father all these years?” he wails, and his mother explains she left her husband
because he was “irresponsible.” Maybe he was. The old man was a circus clown.
Jack's inheritance includes a pile of bills and a trained elephant named Vera.
of “Larger than Life” involves Jack's attempts to move Vera entirely across the
United States, to California, where the elephant will end up either as the
victim of a sadistic animal trainer (Linda Fiorentino) or as part of a breeding
herd being shipped to Sri Lanka by an environmental activist (Janeane
formula for road movies, even those involving elephants, includes colorful
characters encountered along the way, and two of the bright spots in a dim
screenplay are provided by an old carny named Vernon (Pat Hingle) and his
tattooed wife Luluna (Lois Smith). They knew and loved Jack's father, and teach
Jack some commands which (sometimes) make Vera perform an amazing repertory of
tricks. They also advise him to avoid the straight life and become a carny, not
adventures with transporting Vera include a train journey, followed by attempt
to maneuver a semitrailer truck. And we meet Tip Tucker (Matthew McConaughey),
a manic semi owner-operator with weird theories about everything in American
society, especially school lunch programs. He pursues Jack and Vera cross-country
after they misuse his truck. At the end of the journey, Jack has to decide
between the circus and the zoo for Vera--and, in a way, for himself.
materials are here to make a good comedy, I guess. The screenplay is by Roy
Blount Jr., a funny writer. But the energy isn't there. Murray often chooses to
play a laid-back, detached character, but this time he's so detached he's
almost absent. He chooses to work in a low key, and the other actors, in
matching his energy level, make a movie that drones instead of hums. Comedy is
often about people who are passionately frustrated in goals they're convinced
are crucial. Here Jack hardly seems to care, as he and Vera mosey along
cross-country, bemused rather than bedazzled by their adventures.
sad thing is, there are the fixings for another comedy, probably a much better
one, right there in the opening scenes. Motivational speakers are ripe for
satire. The bookshelves groan with self-improvement volumes, all promising to
explain the problems of your universe, and their solution, in a few well-chosen
rules. An honest bookstore would post the following sign above its “self-help”
section: “For true self-help, please visit our philosophy, literature, history
and science sections, find yourself a good book, read it, and think about it.”
Murray's portrait of an inspirational speaker is right on target, and filled
out with lots of subtle touches of movement and dialog, and there is humor,
too, in the way his audiences will go along with his insane schemes (like the
human pyramid), as if being able to balance three people on your back would
solve your problems at work. This whole section of the movie is inspired;
Murray should star in the movie of “The Dilbert Principle.” As for the elephant
portions of the movie: They say an elephant never forgets, which means that I
have an enormous advantage over Tai, who plays Vera, because I plan to forget
this movie as soon as convenient.