Larger Than Life

Larger Than Life. United Artists 1996.

Before watching the movie:

At first I thought I might have been aware of this movie when it came out, but I think I was thinking of the live action scenes from Osmosis Jones, in which Murray plays a zookeeper who seems to mainly scoop elephant droppings and other low tier jobs. Here, however, he’s inherited an elephant from his estranged circus performer father.

A road movie/buddy comedy with an elephant is a really random mix that definitely creates funny moments, but how does someone come up with an idea like that?

After watching the movie:

Jack Corcoran grew up believing that his father died in an act of herorism when he was a baby, and turned his process of accepting that into a motivational book and speaking tour, until he’s contacted by a law firm in Baltimore with news of his father’s recent death. After getting rushed into signing forms accepting a “$35,000” figure, he’s then told that that amount is what he owes in holding fees and property damage for the elephant named Vera that is the main thing his father, Kirby the clown, left for him. Saddled with a big debt and a bigger pachyderm, Jack quickly manages to get in touch with Mo, a zoologist preparing to transport a herd to Sri Lanka for a breeding program, offering him $30k if he can make it to California in three days. But how does a guy get an elephant across the country with little more than the clothes on his back?

There’s not as much elephant misbehavior, or misdirected behavior, as one might expect. They get off on the wrong foot from some accidental commands when they first meet, but mostly Jack might as well be transporting a box of rocks until the third act. Pretty much all of the humor comes from Murray’s vamping, which is most of what brings people in, but it should be hard to forget the elephant in the film, and sometimes that happens. There’s also potential to do more with the traveling circus backstory that gives a reason for the elephant, but aside from some pieces of Kirby’s costume getting used here and there, that’s mostly just to set up the conceit.

It seems like the turn in the relationship between Jack and Vera comes very late, and very suddenly. Jack’s problems coming from not getting along with his gargantuan burden are a major source of comedy, but milking that comes at the expense of what could have been a more natural plot progression. It ends up coming off as the script pressing the “be friends now” button.

This is a movie where Bill Murray does Bill Murray things for 90 minutes, and his main costar is mainly used as an oversized comedy prop. It’s fun, because he makes it fun, but it could have been better. Everything that isn’t Murray is just out of focus, even the three ton performer standing next to him.

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