"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" Review: Craig's First Take

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An office worker who lives inside fantasy worlds where he gets to live an adventurous life while romancing his co-worker sets off a global journey to fix things when both of their jobs are threatened.
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Walter Mitty is a daydreamer and daydreaming is the operative word of the experience I had with Ben Stiller’s first trip in the directors chair since “Tropic Thunder” and first comedy drama since 1994’s “Reality Bites.” It’s one of those movies that claims to have some sort of life message (it’s meant to be lived dammit!) but then why does this movie feel so dry, so unfunny, so not fun?

Walter (Stiller) is a passive bore, and he’s meant to be but there also isn’t much reason to root for him here. He dreams of being a hero, the funny guy at the office, an adventurous sort, but then he usually comes out of one of his zone-outs and realizes that Cheryll (Kristin Wiig), the single mother he’s stalking on E-Harmony, still has no idea who he is and he is still just a negative photo print processor at Life Magazine.

The magazine has been bought and will be turned into a strictly online publication by a new, dickish manager (Adam Scott). Walter is charged with securing the negative from explorer/photographer Shawn O’Connell (Sean Penn) for the last issue’s front page, except no one at the magazine can find it for some reason.

For a movie that claims to be a call about starting to live life, it’s a pretty soft message. Walter doesn’t have the need to ever get off his lazy ass by himself so the plot makes it part of his job, flying him over to Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan in search of O’Connell so he can get the negative for the front page. This leads to a bland romance where he and Cheryll occasionally talk on the phone and an adventure that might have been compelling if it weren’t played out so stupidly. A daydream involving Cheryll singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” becomes encouragement to get on a helicopter with a drunken pilot, he then has to jump off that helicopter and fight a shark. Later he outruns a volcano. This movie makes traveling seem like a nightmare.

Well not all of it. He will occasionally glide down a long hill on a skateboard or climb the Himalayas, usually to some alt-rock music playing in the background, unfortunately the music is the only thing that evokes any feeling. Comedy wouldn’t have hurt either. Patton Oswalt, as an E-Harmony representative, gets some laughs but mostly it seems like Stiller is desperately just searching for anything. The daydreams particularly don’t make a lick of sense. How many guys have romantic fantasy’s that involve having Benjamin Button’s disease?

Adapted from a short story by James Thurber, and another film made in 1947, screenwriter Steve Conrad, who’s done much better work with the plot of men trying to escape empty lives in the past (“The Weatherman”, “The Pursuit of Happyness”) makes Walter’s journey nothing more than run-of-the-mill sequences, directed by Stiller without the slightest sense of excitement or wonder. The best you can say for “Walter Mitty” is that it isn’t preachy, but that’s probably because it’s no expert on being lively either.