Ben Stiller is a hard actor to like. When you look back over his filmography there is an awful lot of crap. Even his supposed good films, aren’t really that good. However, his latest effort seems to be outside his normal remit. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an adaptation of a short story that was originally made into a film in 1947. In it’s current incarnation it has been around for a long time with it having been in line to be directed by everyone from Spielberg to Ron Howard. While Jim Carrey and Sacha Baron Cohen are just two of the actors who have been in line to play the central character. It has finally come to fruition however, with Stiller fulfilling both roles.
It is a story that is ridiculous as it is simple. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is an average guy who works in the photography section of Life magazine. He’s in love with his co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wigg) and she barely knows his name. Meanwhile he has to look after his elderly mother because his father passed away and he is constantly zoning out into wild daydreams about beating up his boss and diving into exploding buildings. Sadly however, Life is now in a position where it is going to be shut down to keep up with the Internet age, but Walter has lost a negative sent in my Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) that is supposed to appear on the final cover. In an attempt to get it back he travels to Greenland and ends up engaging in the type of adventures once reserved for the depths of his sub-conscience.
Not surprisingly it’s in these adventures that TSLWM becomes ridiculous. Whether it’s him fighting off a shark with a briefcase or climbing the Himalayas it never feels like it could be even slightly real. How has this rather low paid worked got the money to do this stuff for one thing? He also takes it all incredibly well considering before this he hasn’t done enough with his life to fill out the ‘Been There Done That’ section of his eHarmony profile. However, that is kind of the point of the film and it does seem a childish to complain about it all. Especially as most of it is done with real heart. Stiller is better as this quiet, insecure character than he is at anything else I’ve seen him do in a long time and it’s hard not to like him. While there are quite a few moments here that are going to make you chuckle along in appreciation.
None of this manages to hide the fact that this is a really average film. If you can’t figure out the final plot twist before the end then you just aren’t paying attention. While the relationship between Wigg and Stiller’s characters is clutching at straws at best. Sean Penn is mildly entertaining as the almost guru like O’Connell but after around 2 minutes of his company he crosses over the line into annoying. While both Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hann are under served as Walter’s mother and sister respectively. This isn’t due out until boxing day and it very much feels like it is playing to that market. Stuffed people looking for something simple and easy to sit in front of and shut off their brain. It will probably succeed at doing that, but it won’t give you much else.