The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is based on a classic short story by noted American humorist James Thurber, who wrote an incredibly moving and funny tribute to the rich inner life of an office drone leading a dull existence. The story has been unofficially adapted plenty of times in Hollywood. Now we get Ben Stiller–directing himself (which is usually a good sign) as the title character in an official adaptation set in modern times.
That is, set in the modern times when Hollywood can bungle any classic idea. Everything wrong with Walter Mitty is revealed pretty early in the film. That’s thoughtful, since it means that we’re safely out of spoiler territory. The movie opens as an extended eHarmony ad that establishes Mitty has a crush on coworker Cheryl (played by Kristen Wiig), but he’s too timid to contact her through the site, and when he finally tries, the eHarmony “wink” won’t work because his life is so dull that he can’t even fill out a proper eHarmony profile.
Furthermore, Mitty has a job in the photo department of LIFE magazine, and it looks like he might soon be unemployed as the (once very real) magazine gets turned into a site-only publication. We learn all this while the movie fitfully crams in CGI fests meant to represent Mitty’s daydreams of being a dashing fellow who can save dogs from burning buildings and get in superhero fistfights with his smarmy new corporate overseer.
But we’re barely into the movie when Mitty gets a chance to impress the divorced Wiig’s son by doing some really impressive skateboarding tricks. Which the audience soon learns isn’t a fantasy. Walter Mitty seems to be the average dull middle-aged corporate drone who can just happen to jump on a skateboard and show off some real flash moves.
And guess what, folks? Walter Mitty is also the kind of dull middle-aged corporate drone who takes off for an epic adventure that’s filled with just as much CGI as his fantasies. Which means that this Secret Life of Walter Mitty isn’t a brilliant character piece. It’s another dopey rom-com where Ben Stiller’s character has the same story arc as in that movie he made with Jennifer Aniston and the ferret. Whatever that was called. We can’t remember. It’s just as forgettable as Walter Mitty.
You can forget Walter Mitty, but it’s harder to forgive Ben Stiller. It would be okay if this was just another paycheck for the now-veteran actor. But it’s a real disappointment to see Stiller directing a useless film packed with product placements. His last four features as a director were Tropic Thunder, Zoolander, The Cable Guy, and Reality Bites. That was a pretty stellar filmography–and now we get Walter Mitty as a massive big nothing. The movie should be a touching tribute to an Everyman. Instead, we get a talented director becoming an Everyhack.