(Photo: 20th Century Fox)
Walter Mitty is an introverted guy with an active fantasy life, according to the classic 1939 short story by James Thurber.
In Ben Stiller's well-intentioned but insipid re-invention of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
(** out of four; rated PG; opens Wednesday nationwide), he's a shy
daydreamer who goes from zero to hero by flitting off to Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas.
he hardly ever has ventured out of his native New York, Walter is able
to shed his timidity and exchange his imagined heroic fantasies for the
real thing, in record time.
Stiller, who directs and stars in Mitty,
has loosely based his film on the story and given it a contemporary
setting. But by trying to combine fantasy and romance with goofy humor,
globe-trotting adventure and feel-good inspiration, Stiller has made Mitty a mixed bag of clashing tones and facile redemption.
bypasses Thurber's satirical treatment in favor of plodding
earnestness. Stiller's is an undeniably attractive production, with
gorgeous locations and some stunning special effects. But it's a dull
In the 1947Mitty movie, which starred Danny Kaye,
Walter drove safely around town with his wife, while his adventurous
escapades remained firmly and unequivocally inside his head.
In Stiller's version Walter has a crush on Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), a down-to-earth co-worker. He's a photo editor at Life magazine
where he's bullied by an obnoxious new boss (Adam Scott) and mocked by
co-workers. Peripatetic photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), however, speaks only to Walter at the magazine.
far-flung expeditions are focused on retrieving a photo negative to be
used in the magazine's final print edition. The adventures serve more
symbolically to help him break out of a lifelong rut. He dodges an
erupting volcano in Iceland and climbs the Himalayas with nary a
misstep. He even plays soccer with sherpas. Yet, his journey is
un-involving and occasionally convoluted.
Stiller was aiming for
this effort to be substantive, complex and thoughtful. Some of the
smaller moments work, but the epic sequences, particularly in the
climactic meeting with O'Connell on a towering mountain, fall flat. And
in his endeavor to make a crowd-pleasing, feel-good movie, Stiller
blunts the edges and subtlety.
Though the film is ambitious on
most fronts, Stiller inexplicably made Walter a vague character. He's
somewhere between an Everyman and a comic goofball, but not enough of
either. For some reason this meek middle-aged man can do showy
skateboard tricks worthy of Shaun White. Other than that, he's bland, genial, sporadically funny and long-suffering, but rarely engaging.
blatant product placement - online dating site eHarmony and Papa John's
Pizza - injects a calculated quality to a film meant to be sincere and
Those who enjoyed Stiller in the Night at the Museum movies might find this sentimental entertainment appealing. But fans of his wacky, absurd comedies, such as Tropic Thunder or Zoolander, will find this more serious Stiller disappointingly bland.