The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (12A.)
Directed By Ben Stiller.
Starring Ben Stiller, Kirsten Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn. 114 mins
Though the Danny Kaye film and James Thurber’s short story are, if we're being absolutley honest, largely forgotten, everybody know Walter Mitty. the idea of a Walter Mitty figure, an everyday man who escapes from dull reality into a rich fantasy life, is universal, it has transcended its origins. Stiller's new film version is itself something of a Walter Mitty figure, prone to take leave of its dull reality as a big budget Hollywood seasonal entertainment and drift off into self-indulgent fantasies.
Stiller’s Mitty works for Life magazine, processing negatives sent in by wild man, globetrotting star photographer Penn. But the magazine is taken over by an evil corporation and is to be downsized to an internet operation. In the first half the film visualises his heroic fantasies of wooing colleague Wiig or standing up to smug corporate bully Scott. In the second hour though Mitty has a dramatic burst of Carpe Diem and goes off on some wild adventures in remote corners of the world.
There’s lot to admire in Stiller’s film which is beautifully made, lovely to look at and has the leftfield style of Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry. But it isn’t funny and there’s nothing grounding these flights of fancy, making it all rather contrived. Our put upon everyman seizes a bit too much of the day; in a single bound he goes from frustrated desk jockey to diving into shark filled water and plunging into Afghanistan. Stiller is unconvincing as a drab everyman but when he transforms into a man of action the film becomes dangerously close to a vanity piece, with swirling helicopter shots of the actor parading across epic barren landscapes in Iceland or the Himalayas or showing off his skateboarding skills.
Oh, and the film’s anti-corporate, let’s-hear-it-for-the-little-man stance doesn’t preclude squeezing in some of the crassest product placement since Bond’s watch plug in Casino Royale.