Some talented people step in a rather large pile of elephant droppings in “Larger Than Life.” Harmless, but also, unfortunately, almost entirely mirthless , this putative comedy about an unsuspecting man obliged to transport a pachyderm cross-country aspires to a winsome charm that never crystallizes, leaving what’s onscreen to wilt before it ever blossoms. Commercial prospects look meager.
Setup might have provided the basis for a nice little film starring someone like Mickey Rooney or Eddie Bracken back in the old studio days. Jack Corcoran (Bill Murray), a slick motivational speaker at meetings and conventions, is shocked to learn that the father he thought died decades ago in fact just croaked. It turns out Dad was a circus clown whose final bequest to his son consists of a trained elephant named Vera and so many debts that Jack will have to sell Vera to the highest bidder just to pay them off.
Frail premise is not helped by the preposterousness of its presentation, which includes Vera running amok through a small East Coast town when she would plausibly still be in the care of whoever was tending to her after Dad’s death; and Jack and Vera essentially being forced to fend for themselves to get to the West Coast, where the only two potential buyers, a right-hearted San Diego Zoo elephant keeper (Janeane Garofalo) and a show-bizzy circus performer (Linda Fiorentino), await them.
Of course, if the setup were handled logically, there would be no movie. But there isn’t much of one as it is, as the screenwriter, vet humorist Roy Blount Jr., strings out a series of whimsical encounters connected by less than scintillating monologues by Jack directed to his 8,000-pound traveling companion as they make their way across the landscape.
Certainly the most vivid of the cameos comes from Matthew McConaughey as a whacked-out cow-boy trucker whom Jack tricks into giving them a lift. Virtually unrecognizable at first, McConaughey is entirely convincing as a manic, hyper nut-case, a characterization about as far as possible away from his star-making leading man turn in “A Time to Kill.” Perf briefly gives the picture a goofy shot in the arm.
But ending is one of unearned sentiment, and it’s hard to imagine what attracted Murray and a number of good up-and-coming thesps to this transparently thin material. It’s not even that the film is bad, just so inconsequential.
Murray does have one reasonably amusing scene in which he mounts and rides the elephant, but otherwise the laughs are hard to find. Pic is attractively mounted.