BILL MURRAY goes to Tibet to find the meaning of life. (I swear.) But he's not quite ready for Shangri- La.

Murray makes his melodramatic debut in a sprawling, soap-operatic adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Razor's Edge." He's Larry Durrell, an upper-caste Chicagoan who comes back Changed from World War I.

Larry's Midwestern pals stick around and make big bucks, while he travels to France and India -- On the Road to Enlightenment, so to speak. Even his fiancee Isabel forsakes him, but she never forgets him. Isabel's a lot like Mary Tyler Moore, as played by Catherine Hicks, and seems always on the verge of saying, "Oh, Mister Grant." In the end, she turns out to be a vicious little thing. And that's a relief because Larry has been wandering about for some time reading the "Upanishads."

Murray and director John Byrum, who cowrote the screenplay, saved the dramatic tension for last and least. Till then, the villain is Life. And that doesn't cut it when you're talking epic saga. On the way to the top, Larry literally closes his eyes for a while, so that Murray seems to fall asleep in his own movie.

The music swells majestically, encompassing the very Himalayas. The camera sweeps the purple mountains panoramically. We're expecting Sir Laurence Olivier, at the very least. But then we zoom in for a closeup and there's -- Larry.

Murray tries. And who can blame him? Who doesn't need a change? Near the end it almost works for him, especially after Larry hooks up with his childhood friend Sophie.

Theresa Russell is apt in the midst of this chaos as Sophie, a widow who slaps a nun, becomes an opium addict, an alcoholic and a prostitute. She and her pimp run into Larry, Isabel, and Larry's best friend Gray (James Keach), who married Isabel while Larry was away.

On learning that his lifelong friend Sophie has become a hooker, Gray says, "Well, let's call it an evening."

Oh, let's. But "Razor's Edge" goes on anachronistically. Larry sounds like Moon Unit Zappa. "There's a lot of energy in this place. I can feel it," he says. Criminy, Larry, it's the 1920s or '30s or thereabouts.

That is, oh wow, Bill. You wanted to be a wise man. But face it, you're just Mr. Wise Guy. And hey, what's so wrong with that? THE RAZOR'S EDGE -- At area theaters.