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I’ve got an idea for a movie: Ben Stiller plays an awkward loser trying to get his life together.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an adequate, schlocky comedy made for stuffy white folks—making for a perfect Christmas release. Normally, I’m not a fan of Ben Stiller. I don’t find his movies funny, and he tries too hard for an easy laugh. And everything in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an easy laugh.

Ben Stiller is no Jerry Stiller.

When the previews for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty first started appearing, I had to stop myself from blurting out “BANNED!” in a crowded theater. I had no interest in watching this movie. All of the most humorous bits were jam-packed in that sanctimonious piece of shit trailer. If I heard one more person laugh at the blue car/red car rental scene, I was going to rip out everyone’s voice box because they no longer deserved the ability to physically indicate finding something funny.

Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Rest assured, you’ve seen everything worthwhile if you’ve watched the trailer for this movie.

I’m typically a fan of daydream sequences because a lot of time, effort, and money are invested in something ridiculous that adds a layer of context or character to a movie. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a movie dedicated to daydream sequences…except they add virtually nothing aside from beautiful imagery. And in the first 10 minutes, there’s already 3 such sequences. To Ben Stiller’s credit, this is a very visually pretty film with some gorgeous scenery—especially those scenes in Greenland. Although Stiller is adequate as the male lead, I came away with a much more positive impression of his directing ability. And the news that he may soon turn from in front of the camera to behind it would be welcomed by me.

I don’t hate Ben Stiller, but there’s always been something holding me back from liking him.

Adam ScottBut that’s not really the case with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Stiller was perfect for the role, and I can’t imagine anyone else making this movie possible. In terms of what little story exists, Walter Mitty processes the film negatives at LIFE magazine, which is transitioning from print to online and Adam Scott plays the manager of this transition. I enjoy Adam Scott, but I found his character largely dreadful in this movie. His fake beard is fucking distracting and it highlights the “look at how cute and funny we are” problem that I have with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Don’t get me wrong, Kristen Wiig is her usual sweet, bubbly self. I don’t expect her to ever do anything else. And her character Cheryl Melhoff is the apple of Walter Mitty’s eye. Many of his daydreams occur as a result of staring at or thinking about her. But it’s just all too much.

Except for the painfully unfunny Stretch Armstrong dream sequence, the first 45 minutes manage to be both funny and interesting. There’s a certain Office Space element to the LIFE magazine transition that would have been better (more bearable) with John C. McGinley than Adam Scott. But in the second half of this movie, Walter Mitty’s daydreams turn into reality.

Inexplicably, Mitty is a skateboarding expert that has the balls to jump from a helicopter driven by a drunk pilot into the scene of Deadliest Catch into the scene of Man Vs. Wild with Bear Grylls scaling a mountain towards a volcano on a bike. This is not a daydream. Walter Mitty is a man on a mission to track down photographer Sean O’Connell (played perfectly by Sean Penn) in hopes of finding the missing negative for the cover photo of the magazine. Mitty’s chase for this lost print is often convoluted and schmaltzy.

This midlife crisis gone wild is a tedious turn that doesn’t know how to end. Personally, the last 15 minutes felt aimless and awkwardly drifting towards a predictable culmination. Half of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty worked and the other half did not. It’s not a surprise that this movie has only grossed about half of its budget due to excessive special effects spending on a handful of daydream sequences.

Penn

While there are worthwhile scenes, awe-inspiring visuals, and even some cheap laughs, this movie doesn’t live up to the hype produced by its marketing nor does it reach its lofty aspirations of finding meaning to life. Ultimately, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will find a happy life on repeat as a sentimental TV comedy.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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