Movie review: “Mitty” minimizes the wit

Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

By Jim Tortolano, E Pluribus Unum

Tom Clancy often complained about the way that Hollywood – in his view – mangled his books when converting them into films, but he cashed the checks anyway.

James Thurber, if he were around, would probably have the same complaint about what 20th Century Fox did to his most famous short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

As a matter of fact, Thurber got jobbed twice, with a bad 1947 version (starring Danny Kaye) preceding the merely disappointing 2013 version (starring Ben Stiller).

In both cases, the sly humor of that slim New Yorker article got submerged into the challenge of taking a 10-page article and turning it into a two-hour motion picture.

This most current “Mitty” stars Stiller as a photo librarian at a fictional version of Life magazine, which is about to publish its last print edition.  Mitty is a daydreamer who also longs (at a distance) for pretty colleague Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) but can’t get up the courage or the track record to take such a chance as asking her for a date.

The plot device that sets things in motion is that the photo negative intended to be the cover shot for the Life finale goes missing, and Stiller sets off on a quixotic (and uncharacteristic) trek to track down the photographer, played by a hairy Sean Penn.

Much unlikely silliness follows. There is some excellent cinematography and many goofy foreigners (Greenland and Iceland), but what all that has to do with the secret life of Mitty is largely ignored.

The problem here is that Stiller (who directed and co-produced the movie) in this film did not create a clever, modernized homage to Thurber, but instead tried to do better than the original, keeping the title and a fragment of the premise, but tossing the rest out like an empty Starbucks cup. posterthe-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-movie-poster

Screenwriter Steve Conrad deserves part of the blame for this flabby story, not one-quarter as witty and modern as Thurber was almost three-quarters of a century ago.

The only appealing thing about this movie is the performance of Wiig, who presents to us a totally likable and believable actual person who serves as Mitty’s unwitting muse.  She is attractive in a real-world sort of way, and Mitty’s pining for her seems one of the few plausible aspects of the whole movie.

Jim’s score: C.

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  1. Wayne Sherwood says:

    I’m not a Ben Stiller fan, so I probably will not see the film. However, I have opinions about it and Hollywood in general. It seems that is recent times, Hollywood only wants the titles, not the stories that went with that title originally. For instance, take the Steve Martin movie from a few years ago, “Cheaper By the Dozen”. The only thing it seemed to have in common with the original, 1950s version, was the title and that the family had twelve kids. The original movie was based on the real life story of the Frank Gilbreth family. I highly doubt that the Steve Martin version was based on a true story.

    If Hollywood wants to use a title and similar plot from a classic story, then they should use the original story, not make up their version of it.

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