Sad to say, this is overly laid-back comedy, its pace dictated not by the manic energy Murray brings to his best roles, but by the lumbering steadiness of his big-eared, peanut-popping co-star. Murray's key comic expression here is ""dopy deadpan"" and, taking their cue from the sleepy leads, even the ""colourful"" folk they meet on their travels seem strangely subdued.
Elephants - - with their size, gentleness and intelligence - - have always been good at revving up audience sympathy, and Larger Than Life plays the Dumbo card at every opportunity. It's when milking your feelings for Vera that the film really comes across as heavy-handed. Our prehensile-snouted pal not only saves a Mexican village church, but eventually responds to his new owner's whistled orders, bringing a tear to Jack's jaded eye. ""They say an elephant never forgets"," says Murray, ""but you never forget an elephant."" Laugh? Cry? Retch?
There is, however, plenty of jumbo-related slapstick to marvel at - including some nifty trunk work with a mobile phone. Not much of it is hilarious, but you can't help but be impressed by the fact that they got the orotund beast to perform these tricks in the first place.
The big problem is that, for a comedy, there just aren't enough decent jokes: you'd expect a higher gag count from scripter Roy Blount; much of the comic talent is wasted (Janeane Garofalo of The Truth About Cats And Dogs gets a mouse-sized role as Mo); the self-help satire of the opening looks to have potential, but ultimately gets short shrift; and even the road-movie comedy rarely moves into the higher gears. We get a brief nod to trucker classic Smokey And The Bandit 2 as Jack attempts to make off with an 18-wheeler, and a fun turn from Matthew McConaughey as a psychotic driver obsessed with food-related conspiracy theories, but we're soon back into the schmaltz and heavy-handed Friend Of The Earth stuff.
The result, then, is a schizoid package - sweet, sometimes funny, but too half-hearted to really get going, and clearly unsure whether it wants to be a crazee comedy or a "finding yourself" tearjerker. As the movie chugs to its Vera-loose-in-airport-lounge dénouement and Casablanca-style farewell, you can't help feeling that dreary PC has triumphed over old-fashioned entertainment.