Larger Than Life (1996) – A Review
Everyone loves Bill Murray. It’s hard to imagine a time when Bill Murray was not beloved. When he first joined Saturday Night Live he was viewed as Chevy Chase’s replacement and he was greeted with narrow eyes. Before long he became a favorite performer on the show and fans followed him to the movies where they rejoiced in his deadpan humor and classic one-liners.
He followed with a string of comedy hits that made him a star. Even if the movie wasn’t that good, Murray was almost always enough to give the flick some redemption.
That’s what I thought could possibly happen with Larger Than Life. But it doesn’t. It’s probably the strangest, most surreal confusing film experience in Murray’s career. And yes, I’m including all the stuff he’s done with Wes Anderson with that!
Murray plays motivational speaker Jack Corcoran who is informed his father has died. This comes as something as a surprise since Jack having never knew his father had always been told by his mother he died before he was born. What comes as a bigger shock is learning Dad was a circus clown and has bequeathed to his son an elephant named Vera.
Of course owning an elephant doesn’t really go with his lifestyle. Jack wants to quickly unload Vera and the only two interested parties in taking her is zoo keeper Janeane Garofaolo and animal show owner Linda Fiorentino. Now Jack must travel cross country with his large companion and find the best home for her. What will happen when the motivational speaker and pacaderm hit the road together?
I had never watched this until I stumbled onto it on television the other day. I had always heard the negative things about it and had no interest in it, but I decided to give it a chance. I shouldn’t have bothered.
It’s a very simple sitcom-y premise and setup for an unlikely pair of travelers in a quintessential road movie. You already start to get visions of funny sight gags and startled looks by pedestrians. Constant frustrations for Murry who has to care for this large bundle he’s been saddled with. But the funny never shows up here.
Murray is terrific at playing cynical, sarcastic characters who through the course of a story learn a lesson and in the end is a better person going through the experience.
Here, the setup of him being this motivational speaker who wants to get bigger gigs and land a book deal didn’t seem all that bad to me. There really wasn’t much of a strong character flaw that needed correcting for him. At least in my eyes. So in the end when inevitably his heart warms to Vera it wasn’t much of a payoff.
Plus, Murray just seems to be lumbering through this movie like his giant co-star. There’s really not a lot of energy coming from him. He actually seemed more excited to be giving his motivating speech at the beginning of the movie than anything else that comes after.
Their travels don’t yield any laughs. The elephant is cute I suppose and does some tricks here and there and as much as Murray tries to reel off one-liners none of them fly Watching the two make their way to the west coast becomes an extremely dull and tedious process.
The co-stars, which are some pretty recognizable names, simply show up and have very little to do other than reciting banal dialogue. Matthew McConaughey gets the most screentime as a deranged trucker who picks the pair up. He’s simply awful and extremely unfunny in this. It was kind of ironic watching him embarrass himself in this after having won that Oscar just recently.
The best thing that could be said about Larger Than Life is that it’s a family friendly-type of flick that’s overall innocuous and it might hold little kids attention for a short time, but it’s nowhere near as funny as what one would think it would be with the idea of Murray and a big elephant walking down the road.
I’m still confused as to what attracted Murray to this or how they talked him into it. This was a pretty big bomb when it came out. costing $30 million and grossing about $8 million. After watching it it’s not surprising why that happened.
There was this period in the mid-90’s when Murray started to shift from leading roles in comedies to appearing in smaller doses in less mainstream and more offbeat movies. Maybe he started to get bored with his famous on-screen persona and wanted to try different things.
It was probably a smart move if Larger Than Life was an indicator of the quality that Murray’s comedies would continue with. As it sits it’s a forgettable Murray vehicle that most Murray fans probably never bothered to watch. And it’s really not worth their attention.