Back when The Simpsons was funny, they had a great gag about PBS' A Prairie Home Companion, hosted by Garrison Keillor. Homer, et al., were sitting on the couch, watching Keillor tell his supposedly comedic stories. Stone-faced, the Simpsons couldn't figure out why the TV audience was in fits over Keillor; finally, Homer stood up and banged on the TV: "Be more funny!" he shouted, confused and angry.
Let's give Homer the benefit of the doubt: If broken technology is why A Prairie Home Companion is so dull on PBS (and equally so on NPR), then that means there are a whole bunch of lousy projectors in America's movie theaters—because Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion film is even duller.
There isn't so much a story here as an excuse to trot out an incredible cast—there's Meryl Streep, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin, and Tommy Lee Jones, alongside a weirdly cast Lindsay Lohan and the overrated Virginia Madsen. Most of these actors play paper-thin characters who contribute to the film's titular radio variety show; Keillor, as the film's screenwriter and the program's host, is our bland, thread through a whole bunch of folksy humor and folksier reminiscing.
Companion revels in the maudlin, whitewashed nostalgia that your senile great-aunt might drone on about—but at least when she's rambling, watching her Alzheimer's blank-outs and Parkinson's trembling provides some sort of amusement. Here, only Reilly and Harrelson approach being entertaining—everybody else is either bland, clichéd, or both.
Throughout, Companion is an insistently inconsequential mess of phony sentiment and not-quite-clever one-liners. If nothing else, at least, your great-aunt will love it. If you get suckered into taking her, though, don't bother asking the manager if the theater's equipment is damaged. Homer was right—something here is pretty busted—but whatever it is, the fault lays with Keillor and Altman, not the projectionist.