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Mitty misses the mark

Long in gestation film adaptation needs a few more rewrites

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jan 04, 2014 06:00 am

SECRET LIFE Ė Ben Stiller is Walter Mitty, a man who shakes free from a life of extreme banality to take on great worldwide adventures.
SECRET LIFE Ė Ben Stiller is Walter Mitty, a man who shakes free from a life of extreme banality to take on great worldwide adventures.
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Stars: 2.5
Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Kathryn Hahn, Terence Bernie Hines, Adam Scott, Adrian Martinez, Patton Oswalt, Sean Penn and Shirley Maclaine
Directed by Ben Stiller
Written by Steve Conrad
Rated PG for infrequent coarse language, portrayals of alcohol use, mild violence and cursing.
Runtime: 114 minutes
Now playing at: Grandin Theatres, Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre

Oh Hollywood, why did you let this happen? Once again, you have taken a great and tragic story and turned it into a feel-good movie. Worse than that, itís a right and royal mess.

I have loved James Thurberís short story of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ever since reading it in junior high school. Itís about a man who never really lives because he is constantly being caught up in his own wonderful daydreams. He imagines things more fantastic than he thinks he can ever accomplish in his own life, and so he becomes perpetually delusional. Itís as sad as it sounds.

Now itís 2014 and Ben Stillerís version sees him star as the man with his head in the clouds, but ending up winning the day.

Mitty (Stiller) is a negative asset manager at Life Magazine. Yes, thatís meant to sound like he has a depressing job but itís actually quite descriptive. Heís in charge of the old school photographic negatives that serve for publication. The death of print media means that the print version of the periodical is set to wind down. Mitty gets a special delivery: a series of pictures from esteemed photographer Sean OíConnell (Sean Penn).

The problem is that the best frame is missing. With the help of the object of his affections, his co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), he is forced to go on a worldwide escapade to track down the elusive photographer and his missing treasure. This takes him from New York to Greenland to Iceland to the Himalayas.

So Mitty is a mild-mannered fellow who really doesnít have much of a life. Itís one of those great quirks of fate that he works for a magazine called Life, isnít it?

At the start of the movie, he works on his profile for a dating website but struggles to promote himself because he really hasnít done anything. He has repeated fantastic daydreams that involve some of the most amazing special effects, snappy comebacks, fistfights and other action scenes.

Throughout the course of his real adventures, he ends up hiking up a mountain, fighting off a shark, escaping a volcano on a skateboard and falling in love with the very same woman that he can barely even muster the courage to talk to in the hallways. We all see this coming from 10 miles away so all of these high moments end up lacking a lot of luster.

This classic story sadly falters with a classic case of unevenness. Itís slow and then fast. Itís weirdly comical then abruptly serious. It utilizes some unique storytelling techniques that just donít make sense. Thereís an airport X-ray sequence that by itself is brilliant but comes quite out of nowhere, leaving the audience feeling put off. Our protagonist comes by his character arc too easily, even when heís jumping into the north Atlantic Ocean. It seems like there is far too much going on and yet nothing really happens. We need more exposition yet rue all of the protracted events and dialogue.

Now donít get me wrong. I like Ben Stiller and have greatly enjoyed some of his movies repeatedly. This one, however, stands out like a sore thumb. Frankly, itís a mess. I wanted to love it but feel that itís missing something.

I can only come to the verdict that itís the screenwriterís fault. The story was there. The ideas were solid. I thought it had everything going for it. I didnít even mind the several events of corporate shout-outs and product placements, the hallmarks of a movie that needs to pander to public entities in order to make its production bankable.

I just think that a few different drafts of the script and everything would have locked firmly into place.


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