Larger Than Life
1996, PG, 93 min. Directed by Howard Franklin. Starring Bill Murray, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew McConaughey, Pat Hingle, Linda Fiorentino, Keith David, Tai.
REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., Nov. 8, 1996
Better than expected. That may sound like a flaccid endorsement, but my expectations for this movie were so low as to be under sea level. Going in, Larger Than Life looked like just more generic “product” from the New Hollywood: High Concept in that smarmy way that links star and “outrageous” premise (“Bill Murray… with an elephant!”), slapped onto a formula (road movie) and driven by an artificial device (deadline for reaching set destination) -- another celluloid widget off the Dream Factory assembly line, devoid of thought or personality. But somebody went and hired Roy Blount, Jr. to write the screenplay, and bless his chicken-fried heart, Roy just didn't spit out a generic Nineties Stepford film comedy. Oh, he followed the outline (we have no trouble seeing where this hound is headed), but he threw in a little sass, a little smarts, and a lotta love of back roads -- country byways where cows graze the roadside, small carnivals play, folks still pitch in to help a stranger -- to make a movie fond of days gone by and little towns and little things in general. And that makes it out of sync with the corporate Hollywood of animatronic aliens and explodin' White Houses. The wonder here comes from a live elephant who stands on her hind legs; that's as large as things get, and if you can tune in to a comedy on that scale, you may find some unexpected pleasures in this one. What seems at first a rather understated Bill Murray -- he appears to be refining his smart-aleck roguishness into minimalist mode -- turns out to be a Murray mining drollery straight from Jack Benny territory, and he's dry fun. And while most of the impressive supporting cast is pitifully underused, Pat Hingle wrings a surprising amount of good humor and pathos out of a retired carny, and Matthew McConaughey gets great mileage from a loopy trucker who sees conspiracy in every white line; he's a hopped-up cousin of Ernest T. Bass. And Tai is the most endearing film elephant this side of Dumbo. With the warmth of Elliott Davis' cinematography and The Band and the Staple Singers on the score, Larger Than Life has much that's appealing for an older, old-fashioned crowd. Or as six-year-old Eli Black put it to his dad: “It's a grown-up movie. If it had been a kid movie, it would've shown the elephant peeing more.” There you go.