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"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," Reviewed: Have Skateboard, Will Travel.
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By Erich Vandussen
Erich Van Dussen's film reviews have been featured in newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and online for more than 20 years. He lives in the Finger Lakes region.
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Ben Stiller’s gorgeous conversion melodrama The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG-13) still contains the DNA of the original James Thurber short story – in which a hapless everyman dreams outsize fantasies of a rich and adventurous life – but that genetic material has been artificially engineered to create something unnaturally grand. Stiller’s Mitty is a nebbishy “negative asset manager” for Life magazine, tasked with safeguarding a prized image by a legendary photographer (Sean Penn) that will be used for the cover of Life’s final print edition. Trouble is, Walter can’t find the image or its creator – and his hunt takes him literally around the world, where he inadvertently discovers the robust life he thought was beyond him.
Stiller has conceived this third-generation Mitty (which has much more in common with the 1947 Danny Kaye adaptation than Thurber’s slim story) as an inspirational tale of the buttoned-down man who needs to get out of his own way to succeed in life. His metaphor of choice is travel: Walter’s search for the image allows cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh to build a travelogue reel of faraway lands that would be at home in the pages of, well, Life magazine. Unfortunately that epic journey – by plane, helicopter, boat and skateboard – is paired to a weak script that offers a predictable series of revelations, life lessons and small victories. Worse, the filmmakers do themselves a disservice by shooting Manhattan in a dynamic fashion that makes Walter seem like kind of a shmuck for failing to realize the glories of the world right outside his window. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is beautiful to look at, but ultimately hollow: a picture postcard with not much written on it.
(IMAGE: Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.)

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