Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99

Movies

Entertainment Movies

Review: 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' ★★

So. Turns out the only thing the prototypical American milquetoast Walter Mitty needed to get happy was a little stubble and a lavish travel budget.

In director Ben Stiller's earnest-but-screwy go at "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," Stiller himself takes the role of the daydreaming, "Yes, dear" fellow introduced in a wee-but-hardy 1939 James Thurber short story. Thurber sold it to The New Yorker and eventually his grey little man with prodigious dreams of heroism was given the Hollywood treatment in a post-war Danny Kaye vehicle.

Stiller has no interest in delivering the comic mania of Kaye. Rather, his Mitty is the center of an easygoing self-actualization travelogue in which the title character, here conceived as a photo archivist for a dying Life magazine, lurches from Greenland to Afghanistan, searching for an elusive photojournalist played by Sean Penn. (For the record, Life actually died several years ago.) In screenwriter Steven Conrad's story a crucial missing image, captured by the photographer but misplaced under Mitty's usually eagle-eyed watch, is desperately needed for Life's final cover. Recovering it may be the key to Mitty hanging onto his old-school, defiantly pre-digital job.

The irony of a story hinging on a tiny scrap of film forced to compete with a sea of computer-generated imagery is pretty odd. The movie feels uncertain as to its own tones and intentions. Fantasy blowouts, such as Stiller battling a slimy corporate takeover artist played by Adam Scott), offer a chuckle or two. Then we're back to the other movie, the one Stiller clearly had more interest in making.

Mitty is in love with a co-worker played by Kristen Wiig. The scenes between Stiller and Wiig have real charm, and Stiller's enough of a director to know when to simply let a leisurely patch of dialogue unfold in a single shot (in this first-conversation case, on a Manhattan sidewalk). Elsewhere, though, "Walter Mitty" operates on a scale that feels way, way off. Once Mitty leaves the confines of his shrinking life and crosses time zones in pursuit of the photographer, the seams of the picture threaten to split. Is a 21st century film about a Walter Mitty type really best served by gorgeous, eye-popping location shooting on a near-$100 million budget?

Shirley MacLaine has a pleasant scene or two as Mitty's mom; Patton Oswalt works shrewd wonders as the voice (and then the face) of an eHarmony dating representative trying to get Mitty to goose up his profile. The film has a persistent and careful sheen. It looks good. It is, in fact, preoccupied with looking good. If this sounds like faint praise, I'm afraid it is.

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" - 2 stars

MPAA rating: PG (for some crude comments, language and action violence)

Running time: 2:05

Opens: Wednesday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Review: 'Wolf of Wall Street' ★★
    Review: 'Wolf of Wall Street' ★★

    In the waning years of the last century at Stratton Oakmont, the Wall Street brokerage house run like a coked-up 24-hour bacchanal by Jordan Belfort, the customer wasn't king. The customer was merely a means to an end. Belfort and his minions ruled, and they couldn't spend, snort or swallow the...

  • Review: 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'
    Review: 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'

    'Long Walk to Freedom' is a familiar story, but it's one worth experiencing again to see the incendiary work of Idris Elba and Naomie Harris as Nelson and Winnie Mandela.

  • Review: 'Clouds of Sils Maria'
    Review: 'Clouds of Sils Maria'

    Now 60, and always more of a wry classicist than a maverick, the writer-director Olivier Assayas is one of the steadiest and most reliable filmmakers in contemporary cinema. I like his latest, "Clouds of Sils Maria," a great deal; it's beautifully acted and has a few wise (if familiar) things to...

  • Review: 'The Salt of the Earth'
    Review: 'The Salt of the Earth'

    Watching "The Salt of the Earth," the compelling new documentary about photographer Sebastiao Salgado, it becomes clear early on just how odd it is to experience Salgado's work on someone else's timetable. With an exhibition or a book of photographs, you set your own clock, spending as much time...

  • Review: 'Monkey Kingdom'
    Review: 'Monkey Kingdom'

    Compile all the sufferings and adversities heaped upon all the vulnerable protagonists in the complete works of Charles Dickens, from "Little Dorrit" to "Oliver Twist," and you'd still fall short of the 81 minutes of hardship endured by Maya, the simian heroine of Disneynature's new nature documentary...

  • Review: 'True Story'
    Review: 'True Story'

    "True Story" is a case of a well-crafted film, made by a first-time feature director with an impressive theatrical pedigree, that nonetheless struggles to locate the reasons for telling its story.

  • In 'Unfriended,' horror comes to life online
    In 'Unfriended,' horror comes to life online

    The new horror flick "Unfriended," which opens April 17, unfolds completely on a computer screen. In the film a teenager and her friends are terrorized by a digital stalker seeking revenge for a shaming video that led to a suicide.

  • Review: 'While We're Young'
    Review: 'While We're Young'

    The vantage point of middle age is delightfully cruel, affording a clear view of the generation of hotshots coming up on the rail from behind and the generation of long-distance thoroughbreds five lengths ahead. The opportunities for angst are limitless.

Comments
Loading

64°