Film review | Some secrets should remain just that

Ben stiller is one of the more peculiar figures of American comedy, invariably playing the out-and-out goon à la Zoolander, or the tetchy, downtrodden ‘Gaylord Focker’ type, as in Meet the Parents or its much maligned sequels. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed and produced by Mr. Blue Steel, is an unabashed vanity project in which Stiller attempts to reinvent the wheel by playing a humble, average Joe-cum-Indiana Jones character.

Walter is a long-term employee of the American magazine LIFE. Ironically, he has no life at all – spending most of his time in a darkroom developing camera negatives, daydreaming of an alternative reality that is brimming with action, heroism and romance with his office crush Cheryl (Wiig).

When the magazine is acquired by a toothless, bearded oligarch (Scott), who plans to shift the publication from print to all-online, Walter’s reveries start merging with reality. Walter begins a voyage around the world – dodging Icelandic volcano eruptions, Greenlandic sea sharks and the Himalayan frost-bite – on the hunt for the magazine’s acclaimed, fearless photographer (Sean Penn) and LIFE’s final front cover shot. 

Despite luscious cinematography and bucolic landscapes that look great on the big screen, the film is tonally confusing. While the secondary cast adds charm and wit, Stiller manages to suck the life, comedy and adventurer’s spirit out of every scene, to come across as an unsympathetic, charmless sap, perpetually framed in solipsistic close-up.

After decades of production turmoil – in which Owen Wilson, Mike Myers, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jim Carrey were considered for the lead role – it’s a marvel that this tenuous adaptation of James Thurber’s great, but wafer-thin short story ever managed to see the light of day. The whole thing may look a treat, but The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a joyless, lackadaisical descent into Stiller’s own ego. 

His ideas may be big, but the film comes across as a Life of Pi without the life. This makes for a lacklustre, meddlesome two hours that resemble the same sort of macroscopic, vacuous U2-ness of the film’s Arcade Fire soundtrack. A middling effort –Stiller should have kept this one a secret.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (11)

Dir: Ben Stiller; US comedy/adventure, 2013, 114 mins; Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Sean Penn
Premiered December 25
Playing Nationwide

Also out this week: Grudge Match (11)


Although this film has a solid premise – Pittsburgh natives Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen (De Niro) and Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp (Stallone) face off in the fight they never had in the 80s – it should have been made when the two senior citizens were in their (fighting) prime. The de-ageing attempts (a mixture of woeful CGI and old footage) are undeniably bad, and although the nods to Rocky and Raging Bull are palpable, the film flounders into mediocrity from the outset. CJ

Dir. Peter Segal; US comedy, 2013, 113 mins; 
Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro