While any high concept that pairs Bill Murray and a circus elephant in a road-picture setting would appear to have boundless possibilities, those in “Larger Than Life” are unfortunately exhausted before the end of the first hour.
Despite the efforts of Murray and a particularly pleasing pachyderm and a promising start, the film is a bit of a mess, giving the impression that dozens of pages of script had been trampled on or otherwise truncated.
Murray has the tailor-made role of Jack Corcoran, a motivational speaker whose long-lost and recently departed father leaves him a sizable inheritance in the form of Vera (Tai), an 8,000-pound circus elephant, in addition to some equally large debts.
Figuring he could sell the animal to the highest bidder and use the money to pay off those bills, Corcoran has five days to find Vera a new home before his next motivational engagement.
Along the way, he encounters a veritable three-ring circus of characters, including a tightly wired trucker (Matthew McConaughey in a way-over-the-top performance that’s definitely not a keeper), a big-top veteran (Pat Hingle) and his tattooed-lady wife (Lois Smith), a San Diego Zoo elephant expert (Janeane Garofalo) and a whip-cracking animal handler (Linda Fiorentino).
The film is not without its inspired moments - Murray choreographing a human pyramid during one of his motivational sessions, Murray attempting to drive a rig with a mind of its own, Murray and his newfound gray friend cavorting in the water - but they are few and far between.
It appears as if director Howard Franklin (who first worked with Murray on the underrated “Quick Change”) has given his star free reign to improvise, which is fine as long as there’s something he can always come back to. In this case, that would be Roy Blount Jr.’s script, and, at least in its remaining form, it seems Murray had the right idea. The picture needed a stronger blueprint.
Behind the scenes, the most impressive work comes from elephant trainers Gary and Kari Johnson, whose family-owned Have Trunk Will Travel, trains Asian elephants for both the entertainment industry and county fairs. Murray’s co-star, who previously appeared in “Operation Dumbo Drop,” has a 50-command repertoire and more personality than any animatronic or computer-generated version could hope to replicate.
It deserved better.
xxxx “Larger Than Life” Locations: East Sprague, North Division and Showboat Credits: Directed by Howard Franklin, starring Bill Murray, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew McConaughey, Keith David, Pat Hingle, Jeremy Piven, Lois Smith, Anita Gillette Running time: 1:33 Rating: PG
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