THE STORY: Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a mousy man who escapes into heroic daydreams - "zoning out", as his family and co-workers at Life magazine call his episodes. When celebrated photographer Sean O'Connell's (Sean Penn) photograph for the final-print issue of the magazine is missing, Mitty is urged by his office crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) to track down the elusive man and takes a trip that will transform his life.
There is a well-known cartoon in the New Yorker magazine in which a drab man, lying on his psychiatrist's couch, says: "Doctor, my problem is that even my wildest dreams are dull."
That, in a nutshell, sums up this movie, which aims to be a parable about the joy to be found in shattering personal limits, but which itself seems afraid to say much more than "get out and book yourself a nice holiday in Iceland".
Ben Stiller, the director and star, updates the 1947 movie of the same title, which itself is loosely based on a short story by humorist James Thurber. Thurber reportedly hated the 1947 movie and if he were alive today, he would have loathed this one even more. The problems begin with the clunky meta- phorical load placed on the story. Much of it is grade-school obvious and when it is not, makes no sense.
Mitty (Stiller), is a photo department archivist at a print news magazine. Get it? Two kinds of dead-endedness in one package, never mind that his post, if it ever existed, would have been phased out a decade or more ago.
This incoherence is compounded when Mitty also receives and processes film sent in by journalists. Wait, is he the photography editor too?
Contrivance is piled on contrivance when dating consultant (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt) tells him his online dating profile is glaringly unattractive because of the blank he leaves in the "been there, done that" section.
Being there and doing that, this film implies, is about using one's credit card to buy adventure holidays which, upon listing them on one's dating profile, will cause one's inbox to explode with female appreciation.
Stiller, as director and actor, delivers a movie with a comedic tone that wobbles between quietly deadpan (mainly him and love interest played by a sadly under-used Wiig) and archly knowing (delivered by Mitty's nemesis, an Internet-embracing, print-hating new boss played by Adam Scott).
That is, when it is not dipping sentimentally into Oprah-esque segments about learning to live life to the fullest.
If you do want to see one feel-good film this holiday season, dream a little bigger. Watch something else.
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