Larger Than Life

If critics were worth their byline they would have approached this aptly-titled film like the blind doctors they are, and told us various stories of what it might be, but to a man and Rita Kempley they avouched it as unfunny, and Stephen Holden outdid himself by offering ideas for improving it.

All you need for a send-up of the motivational speaker is the jealous look of disgust he casts upon one of Anthony Robbins’ infomercials, but this takes place in a junkyard where the owner confides, “he changed my life.” The political angle is certainly there, Clinton being in at the time and a stolid Republican symbol being led on a cross-country journey. The epic flair of this culminates in New Mexico, where Bill Murray in John Wayne’s costume from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon rides Vera after the two have saved a church steeple from falling. There’s the canny and larcenous train conductor, the agent, the corporate rubes, Pat Hingle as The Human Blockhead and Lois Smith as his wife The Tattooed Lady, Harve Presnell as the attorney, and Vera, a superb performer.

Most disprized of all has been Matthew McConaughey’s magnificent turn as a manic trucker, larger than life but as accurately realized as the rest of the film. Any of these aspects might have served for an extended bit of prose on a manipulator who treats people like circus animals and inherits a real one, or the Easterner who learns what’s really on the other side of the Hudson, or how funny it is to have a two-party system, or John Ford meets New Hollywood, or life along the truck stops, or a hundred other things, but no, the critics just said this just ain’t funny.