Towards the end of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, a respected photojournalist sits motionless on a mountainside in Afghanistan, staring intently through a lens as a rare snow leopard slinks into view.
“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention,” coos the snapper, transfixed by the elusive big cat in its treacherous habitat.
Ironically, Ben Stiller’s contemporary remake of James Thurber’s short story does demand attention with its flashy slow-motion dream sequences and rousing soundtrack courtesy of Arcade Fire, David Bowie and Icelandic indie-folk band Of Monsters And Men.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty charts the misadventures of a dreamer, whose imagination conjures fantastical adventures to offset the gloom of his humdrum reality.
A 1947 film version starring Danny Kaye deviated significantly from the source text to showcase the verbal and physical dexterity of the leading man.
Stiller’s incarnation isn’t a one-man vanity piece to the same degree but it does rely heavily on the actor-director to shoulder the burden of comedy and romance through various madcap interludes.
Overall, the innate sweetness and whimsy of Steve Conrad’s script should go down a treat after the excesses of the festive season.
Walter (Stiller) processes the negatives for respected magazine Life, taking care with each image, especially the work of globe-trotting photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn).
Throughout the day, Walter ‘zones out’ and imagines declarations of love to pretty colleague Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), who seems oblivious to his existence.
Arriving for work one morning, Walter learns that the magazine is being shut down to make way for the digital revolution of Life.com.
Corporate toad Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) is hired to oversee the “transition” and he rides roughshod over disgruntled staff.
For the front cover of the final issue, Sean sends a special image but the negative goes astray.
“It’s a big deal,” gasps Walter’s assistant Hernando (Adrian Martinez), “you lost a Sean O’Connell!”
Reluctantly, Walter abandons his mother Edna (Shirley MacLaine) and sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn) to embark on a life-altering quest to track down Sean in the icy wilderness of Greenland.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is a warm-hearted tale of a simple man striving to better himself in a world that repeatedly puts him down.
Stiller is inherently likeable and doesn’t shamelessly curry sympathy in early sequences when Walter is abused by Ted and his cronies.
The inevitable showdown between the two men doesn’t produce the fireworks we expect or the film needs, and the romantic subplot with Wiig simmers but fails to come to the boil.
The speed with which Walter’s real life becomes just as outlandish as his fantasies is surprising.
Walter’s last-gasp escape from an erupting volcano is one thing, but to fend off a frenzied shark attack using a battered briefcase doesn’t just take the biscuit, it takes the entire tin.