Rated: PG for some crude comments, language and action violence. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 25, 2013 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
The daydreaming fantasies as emancipating powers in a humdrum life are prevalent in a solemn, trite meditation by charismatic director/actor Ben Stiller without the imagination that might be expected (by his fans) from an idiosyncratic screen presence. The execution just can't bear out an interesting premise through a polished production, cute word-messages and plenty of identifiable product-placement.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty takes flight off of the milquetoast character from the two-and-a-half page James Thurber short story first produced by Samuel Goldwyn in 1947 starring a kooky, charming Danny Kaye. The filmmaking and writing now produced by Samuel Jr., some from the antecedent by Steve Conrad seamlessly allows an amusing, quirky mood at the outset before getting lost in the subconscious of the titular Life magazine photography department worker in letting him live out his adventurous 'zoned-out' side.
A topical feel for the material in the integration of changing social media and a downsized economy are reflected in the iconic large pictorial magazine going digital and its staff about to get their severance. Walter "sees" himself as a paragon of valor when going past a photograph of himself much like John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and the likes of John Lennon have.
The reclusive worker has a yearning for colleague Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) and Stiller shows affection for some of their scenes together even if there is little on-screen rapport between them as he declares his love by way of a 'poetry falcon.' A better one arguably is between Walter with his blank, symbolic E Harmony dating profile with Patton Oswalt's tech representative Todd who periodically contacts his new client to ultimately witty and unexpected returns. Besides an enjoyable Wiig (though not of the vibrancy of Virginia Mayofrom the earlier fable), Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn aren't able to make much of an impression as a doting mother and a bright, ebullient sibling.
Yet, what finally emerges as nondescrwaipt and needed more of an easygoing approach may not concern those involved with Walter's assignment in pursuing the magazine's 'quintessential' cover image from its famous, elusive freelance photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn, in an interesting piece of casting). It may fulfill and fuel the needs of a studio blockbuster and a timid fellow like Walter where a zany Greenland interlude towers over one in Iceland and even some stunning landscape shots in the Himalayas as Wiig stands out in covering David Bowie around the antics of an inebriated helicopter played by Olafur Olafsson. In the end, Stiller is unable to make his eye-grabbing existential crisis as extraordinary through the uncharacteristic actions of a man living in quiet desperation.
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