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Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Life mostly lame

Posted by on December 25, 2013 – 7:47 am

The Secret Life of Walter MittyThe new remake of the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which is based on the 1939 classic short story by James Thurber, maybe should have been called “The Secret Product Placements of Walter Mitty,” as the movie is rife with more not-so-subliminal commercials than anything I can remember seeing since The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

If you are a big fan of Papa John’s Pizza, Cinnabon, and/or eHarmony, and like having their products jammed down your throat, then you are probably going to enjoy this movie a lot more than I did. It’s a shame really that what should have been a heartwarming tale about living life to its fullest had to be defiled with branding overkill.

Okay, so now that I have that rant out of the way, let’s get to the rest of the film. Ben Stiller, who also directed this movie, play the titular character, who, in this version is a negative film archivist for Life magazine. (For the kids: No, I’m not talking about his attitude; back in the day photographs were produced using “negative” (reverse) images.)

Walter is a nebbish sort whose only excitement in life is elaborate daydreams where he gets to be a hero and get the girl; which in this case is his co-worker, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), who barely notices him and might be involved with some other man.

When Life decides to close its magazine division and go to a web only entity they bring in a mercenary termination expert, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), to assist with laying-off non-essential employees; and when Walter fails to locate the negative needed for the magazine’s final cover, he falls under Ted’s radar and then heads out on a real-life journey to find the elusive photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), who took the picture – and hopefully figure out what happened to the negative.

The Secret Life of Walter MittyIf this story by screenwriter Steve Conrad sounds convoluted – it is – not to mention rather preposterous. Add to this scenario Walter’s fantasies, and his real relationship with Cheryl and her kid, and you end up with a disjointed and confusing mess. Additionally, there is absolutely no chemistry between Stiller and Wiig, who looks like she is fantasizing about being anywhere but in this film.

Although I dislike much of this movie, it does have its moments. When the narrative moves on from Mitty’s daydreams (which are obnoxiously insane special effects sequences) and begins on his journey of real experiences, this becomes a much better movie, albeit still very illogical. There is some beautiful scenery from Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas, and there are a handful of touching scenes, including the ending, which I really liked (and not just because the movie was over.)

Shirley MacLaine also appears in this film as Walter’s Mom, but it was a little odd seeing her in such a small and insignificant part. There is also a surprise cameo by a very funny actor towards the last act of the movie (I won’t spoil it), but then it jumps right back into product placement mode with said surprise actor and my stomach rolled in sync with my eyes.

There is some great and fitting music in this film’s soundtrack – another good thing – but overall I have to write this movie down as a missed opportunity. Stiller is capable of some good and funny directorial work (Tropic Thunder, The Cable Guy), but he seems to have been sleepwalking through this one and unfortunately its few good moments don’t make up for its awkwardly forced story. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a big disappointment. Grade: 4.5/10 

Photos © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox