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Monday, November 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 45.0° F  Fog
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A timid daydreamer contemplates an overseas adventure in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Taking the plunge
Stiller is haunted by regret.
Stiller is haunted by regret.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a mild-mannered Life magazine photo editor capable of astonishing feats of derring-do -- in his daydreams. In real life, he can hardly make eye contact with his crush (Kristen Wiig) or say boo to his bully of a boss (Adam Scott). When unadventurous, real-life Walter is tasked with finding a photo negative on the other side of the planet, he must decide if he's willing to take a chance and hit the road.

Based on an adaptation of the 1939 story by James Thurber (and directed by Stiller), this Walter Mitty isn't about a sad sack, but rather a man haunted by regret. Earlier experiences turned him timid, but the right circumstances could make him a hero. He practices taking risks in his elaborately staged daydreams, where he fights fires and socks his boss in the jaw. But the light amusement of these set-pieces is overwhelmed by technology-enhanced throwaway gags. The exception is a heart-tugger starring Wiig and an acoustic guitar. Walter Mitty is also a very busy, pretty production: pretty colors, pretty scenery, pretty bromides. This draws attention away from the fact that this generous, humane movie is not that interesting.

Could it be the case of a director miscalculating his leading man's strengths? Lean and wolfish, Stiller the actor wears Walter's haunted nature beautifully. But Stiller the director overdoses on empty razzle-dazzle. The passion is there, but it's put in the wrong places.

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