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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Genre Adventure
 
Review:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an adventure-slash-comedy directed by and starring Ben Stiller. Every couple of years, Stiller decides to direct a film and the result is always interesting: Reality Bites, The Cable Guy, Zoolander, Tropic Thunder and now The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, an adaptation of a short story by James Thurber, which was originally adapted to film in 1947.

The story covers the extraordinarily ordinary Walter Mitty, whose daydreaming catches up with him when he undertakes a globetrotting adventure to save his job. It's like Ally McBeal, if she was rather indistinct, worked with negatives at a magazine and daydreamed about being a hero. Add a bit of restless Into the Wild spirit in the form of a coming-of-age adventure drama, the sweet tones of The Big Year and you'll have a good idea of what The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is all about.

This is a film that values style over substance. We're whisked from one high concept daydream fantasy in the city to situations that mimic his daydreams as he truly begins to live, moving from one epic adventure scenario to another. It's this clash of fantasy and reality that propels the simple premise, as the wallflower blooms. The visual effects are first-rate and imaginative, while the travelogue adventure with Stiller racing across beautiful backdrops adds a healthy dose of aesthetic appeal.

While Kirsten Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott and Sean Penn add some considerable weight to the production, it really is the Ben Stiller show, as the actor traverses paradigms and continents on a quest of philosophical dimensions. The story's set up and style drapes The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in shades of escapism and the essence of the story is welcome and quite timely.

Unfortunately, Ben Stiller is not the right man for the job. He can act, he can do comedy - but there's an iciness that keeps you at arm's length. This makes it difficult to identify with Walter, making this more of a third-person travelogue with Stiller as your guide. In fact, you wonder if it wouldn't have been better for Stiller to have gone for the full Palin effect. He's by no means terrible, the story would have just benefited from a more heartfelt and likable performance.

This distancing is the main criticism of this entertaining and meandering journey. As a result, the spirit of adventure substitutes for real heart, despite a fairly touching round-up. There are a few good laughs, but then it does feel inconsistent as a comedy, especially in Stiller's capable hands. The minimalist and visually striking cinematography suggest art house, but the product placements and casting tilt it into the commercial domain.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is enjoyable for its mix of travelogue adventure and high concept fantasy comedy. The visuals effects are arresting, the cinematography is graceful and the premise of a daydreamer reaching out for his dreams is compelling. Unfortunately, the comedy is hit-and-miss, Stiller is impassioned but lacks heart and the distancing makes this movie more fun for Walter than the audience.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

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