By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Loosely based on the short story of the same name by James Thunders, Ben Stiller’s latest directorial/starring effort is a good movie with a great message. I expected something much more magical and wonderful, though. For a film about imagination and excitement, the sometimes, over-the-top fantasies sequences play out so absurdly that it is difficult to get caught up in those moments. I truly believe that for audiences to be sufficiently enthralled, the line between reality and fantasy needs to be blurred more.
Stiller portrays the titular character Mitty, who lives a rather low key life working in the basement of Life magazine. Walter often fantasizes about adventure and excitement, but has never had the courage to pursue this in his real life. Things are about to change dramatically, though. His superiors at Life magazine are preparing to publish their final issue, as they are going strictly online. Celebrated Life photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) has sent Walter an extra special negative to be used as Life’s final cover. When the negative turns up missing, Walter has the opportunity to pursue the adventure of a lifetime in locating O’Connell who probably is in some wild, untamed part of the world.
Screenwriter Steve Conrad adapts this modernization of James Thurber’s story and the result is screenplay and film with much heart, but one that lacks some of the wonder and awe that should come from an adventure of this sort. I love the message that it delivers, but perhaps the jaded film critic in me demands more in terms of thrills and excitement. Once again, I have to state that the fantasy sequences leave some to be desired. A few of them are fun and amusing, but others playout like Stiller’s spoofy brand of comedy.
Stiller refreshingly delivers a solid, straight faced performance, as his usual silliness would be out of place in this film. The film also features a lovely and charming turn by Kristen Wiig, the woman of Walter’s dreams, and a co-worker at the magazine. Adam Scott also stars, as the snarky Ted Hendricks, a company man hired to help Life Magazine make their “transition”. He effectively portrays an irritatingly sarcastic bully of a character, but there really isn’t a whole lot of dimension to it.
Even though the film does lack some depth and dimension as well, the heart warming and sweet message does get delivered decently without getting sappy or saccharine. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a charming and enjoyable movie, but one probably best for a television screen. I recommend waiting to rent this one.