AFI 2013: ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ - Advance Film Review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, inspired by the 1939 short story of the same name by James Thurber, tells the story of a bored New York daydreamer who finds himself forced to take on a real-life adventure. Ben Stiller, who also directs this adaptation, plays Walter. He works as a “Negative Assets Manager” at LIFE magazine, and the movie takes place as LIFE closes down its print division and transitions to a digital-only platform.

The first third of Walter Mitty juxtaposes his quiet, workaday life with his outrageous imagination, where he stars as a hero. Walter’s outward persona is quite subdued. He agonizes over “winking” at his co-worker via a mostly empty e-Harmony account; however, his imagination allows him to save the woman of his dreams in outrageous fantasies. The sequences themselves are mostly flashy with little substance, and they often include Walter’s work crush, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig with a Zooey Deschanel makeover). I am a big fan of Kristen Wiig, but, in this movie, her character is incredibly bland, and her chemistry with Stiller is basically nonexistent.

With the final print magazine coming out in just two weeks, Walter, for the first time in his life, has misplaced a negative sent by famed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). This photograph was set to be the final LIFE cover photo. Under the watchful gaze of merger-overseer and general bad guy Ted (Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation), Walter must go on a real adventure to uncover the lost photo.  Adam Scott is another example of a likeable actor in a somehow hit-and-miss roll as the obligatory pretentious jerk who doesn’t understand what life’s really all about. Most of the scenes between Walter, Ted, and Cheryl are missed opportunities, and the movie ends up relying heavily on Walter’s action-packed adventures in the last two thirds of the film.

Walter journeys to Greenland and Iceland, he jumps from a helicopter, he shows off his skateboarding skills, etc. His adventures end up looking like Super Bowl commercial after Super Bowl commercial. It’s a montage of action sequences with a heavy-handed moral message, but somewhere between the CGI and stilted dialogue, there is some fun to be had, including a charming performance by a mostly-unseen Patton Oswalt (The King of Queens, Two and a Half Men).

What makes this movie work, at all? It’s release date: December 25, 2013. If the holidays roll around and you are in the mood for a movie montage of adventure and a medley of metaphors on making the most of life and embracing each day, etc., etc., and you didn’t get your fix watching It’s a Wonderful Life, then this movie is a decent holiday option. Beyond that, it’s not quite worth the admission ticket to get on the ride.


Two Action-Packed Daydreams out of Five

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