Ben Stiller directs and stars in this comedy loosely based on James Thurber’s story of a man whose inner fantasy life is a lot richer than his real one.
With a big budget and special effects lavished on the epic imaginings of Stiller’s Mitty, a photo negative manager at Life magazine, it’s a visually impressive but strangely hollow affair.
Unlike the irreverent Danny Kaye adaptation from 1947, Stiller’s version can’t decide which way it wants to go. The film shows corporate sharks coming in to close down the venerable magazine but some very obvious product placements undercut any conviction about the film’s message on bad business.
The same confusion applies to the major plot shift halfway through. When a negative from the magazine’s all-action photographer (a brilliantly cast Sean Penn) goes missing, Mitty embarks on a series of globetrotting escapades in pursuit of the ultimate cover shot.
These adventures are a chance for him to impress his office crush, played by Kristen Wiig, who thankfully enlivens the film whenever she appears. But they also undermine the very foundations of the story, as Mitty’s real life suddenly becomes as exciting as the fantasy life he had as an office nobody.
Stiller is known best for starring in feel-good comedies and family popcorn movies (from Zoolander to Night in the Museum), and Mitty is directed in the same vein.
Aside from a hilarious age reversal gag, the fantasy sequences, while spectacular, are too slick and gorgeous for their own good – and tend to blunt any comic effect.
In the end, Stiller sticks with the rom-com formula and as long as you don’t expect something more interesting, it’s a decent enough two hours of diverting entertainment.
Review by Joe Gill