Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013)(Minor Spoilers Review)

**This review contains MINOR spoilers. No major reveals or plot twists**

Life magazine prepares to publish its final issue, and Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is looking for the perfect cover photo. As the negative assets department manager, Walter works on the final issue with his trusted co-worker, Hernando (Adrian Martinez), and Walter receives intense pressure from the new manager, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott). Ted takes control of Life’s transition to an online publication, and Walter takes the number one spot as Ted’s target for taunting.

Walter shares a trusted relationship with Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), a talented and reclusive photojournalist. Sean sends Walter a roll of film with a wallet as a birthday present. In the roll of film, Sean includes his hand-picked choice for Life’s last cover photo, but Walter notices a glaring omission on Sean’s roll. Sean selected “negative 25” for Life’s final cover photo, but negative 25 is missing.

Meanwhile, Walter is trying to help his elderly mother with her moving arrangements. Edna Mitty (Shirley MacLaine) needs the right amount of space for her grand piano, and Walter’s  loopy sister, Odessa (Kathryn Hahn) is more concerned with her performance in an upcoming play. On top of that, Walter is using eHarmony to break the ice for a long time crush on one of his co-workers. Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) is a single mother with a son named Rich (Marcus Antturi), but Walter is too shy and terrified to start a conversation with her.

Motivated by a newfound sense of adventure, Walter embarks on a mission across the globe to find Sean O’Connell and negative 25. Walter tries to balance three missions at once during his journey. The first mission? When it comes to finding Sean and the negative, failure is not an option, because Walter could lose his job after sixteen years of dedication during a take-no-prisoners downsizing process. The second mission? Walter is determined to break out of his shell, and daily daydreaming phases for the chance to experience a real adventure. And for his grand finale, Walter will throw all of his cards on the table in a last-ditch effort to impress Cheryl.

Ben Stiller stays within his comfort zone as the quirky geek. The whacky stuff is toned down for Walter Mitty, but for the most part, Stiller sticks to his routine here, and Stiller is good for a few laughs. I’m not trying to bash Stiller, because he’s a solid leading man, but I won’t go as far as labeling him the “ideal” candidate for this role, because his performance isn’t memorable or extraordinary.

Kristen Wiig stays within her niche, as the shy and nerdy woman. I said this about Stiller, but Wigg’s wackiness is subdued to suit TSLOWM’s more serious parts. Adam Scott is genuinely despicable, as the snobbish boss with a superiority complex, who enjoys bullying Walter. It’s a shame Kathryn Hahn’s Odessa is limited to sporadic appearances here, because Odessa is hilarious as the delusional  and obnoxious sister.

Sean Penn? O’Connell is a carefree and fearless photojournalist, who will do anything to snap the perfect picture, but it’s not fair to judge Penn’s performance, because his screen time is limited here. And Patton Oswalt portrays, Todd, an eHarmony customer service rep, who develops an obsession for Walter during his journey. Oswald’s “screen time” is limited to phone conversations with Walter, and two physical appearances, so don’t get your hopes up for anything special. 

My biggest pet peeve for The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty? The abuse of product placement. It’s not as bad as the product placement in Michael Bay’s Transformers films (especially the 2007 film), but the constant advertising is still annoying. The list includes JanSport Papa John’s Pizza, eHarmony, Chase, Sony, AND Cinnabon. Papa John’s is the worst case of abuse here, because there’s a backstory for Walter working at Papa John’s as a kid, and Walter visits a Papa John’s restaurant during his journey. Plus, it’s kind of hard to ignore the extra close-up shots for the fresh, gooey Cinnabons. I know some of you will say I’m nitpicking too much, but for the love of all things holy, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty feels like one long commercial at times.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty constantly plays mind games with the audience, as they’re trying to separate fiction from reality. During his daily routines, Walter goes through a series of “zone out” phases, so he can escape from a mundane reality. In his daydreaming world, Walter envisions himself as a fearless hero, a mountain climber, or someone, who’s willing to fight Ted to the death for a Stretch Armstrong action figure. If Walter needs to escape, he’ll just flip the mental switch, and bam! He jumps into an exciting world of adventure and danger. Of course, you’ll realize everything is just a daydream, when you see Walter jumping into a burning building to rescue Cheryl’s three-legged dog.

The problem with Walter’s dream sequence for a quick and unexpected transition into fantasy is, this trick loses its shock factor after a while, the element of surprise is non-existent, and the set up for Walter’s dream sequences feels repetitive. It’s good for a few laughs at first, but when you see Stiller aging with each passing second to mock The Curious Case Of Benjamin, then you know there’s no chance in hell this is actually happening in the current storylines. And speaking of the Benjamin Button skit, I’m not the only, who couldn’t laugh at it,  right? Call me crazy, but the Benjamin Button skit didn’t fit within Walter Mitty’s context. If we’re talking about a spoof film, then I wouldn‘t have a problem, but TSLOWM is not a spoof film.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty has some problems, and it’s not a perfect film by a long shot. They were trying to deliver an adventurous and epic fantasy comedy film, but the end result falls short of the intended goal for excellence. As the audience, we’re supposed to be in awe of this ordinary man, who takes a chance on having an extraordinary journey, but Walter’s bold and daring alter ego never reaches that grandiose level of supremacy.

Still, I had a good time with The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty provides enough energetic fun to hold your attention for two hours and five minutes, the laughs are consistent, and you’ll be rooting for Walter Mitty to succeeded in his various missions until the very end.

Rating: 7/10

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  1. Not a perfect flick to make your mark on the world with, but still an impressive one that shows Stiller can direct something as big and as ambitious as this. Good review Mitch.

    1. Yeah, Stiller deserves credit for showing he's capable of directing something on a grander scale, because I had my doubts about that. Thanks for the comment, Dan!