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Movie review: 'Walter Mitty', a quirky film by Ben Stiller that dares to dream

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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The concept of following your dreams is given a literal interpretation in the new film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (opening today). It's a remake of a 1947 film of the same name, with Ben Stiller in the title role (portrayed originally by Danny Kaye).

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Walter Mitty is a well-made, feel-good film, that is more cute and endearing than it is laugh-out-loud funny. That may come as a surprise considering its cast of talented comedians, many of whom are quite constrained here. You have Stiller of course, but the object of his affection is Cheryl Melhoff, played by the usually zany Kristen Wiig. Her silliness is kept at bay, just bubbling under the surface. You also get Kathryn Hahn and Shirley MacLaine, in roles so small you'll wonder if you imagined them. Adam Scott (TV's Parks & Recreation) is perhaps given the film's only purely comedic role, as Mitty's jerky boss and he's quite funny.

As the film's title suggests, Walter Mitty has a secret life. Actually, it's a life that exists purely in the head of this day-dreamer. Mitty gets caught up in nearly all of life's moments as his mind wanders and he imagines himself doing all kinds of heroic things. In some, he is a world-class lover, in other visions, he is a real-life super-hero. Of course, the rub is that Mitty isn't heroic. But boy is he relatable. Who among us doesn't imagine themselves as something more than they are?

Things are about to change though for Walter. When his job is threatened, Mitty embarks on a real-life adventure. Before he knows it, he is doing things in reality that far surpass the dreams he used to think up.

Ben Stiller is perfect in the role, in a film that he also directs. It's his best achievement to date as a film-maker. The whimsical spirit of the film is both funny and inspiring, but it's almost too floaty to have any lasting emotional impact. Still, there is a finesse with how Stiller handles the material, always keeping the film out of the realm of corniness and/or farce.

The film breezes in and breezes out. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty may not inspire you to run out and fulfill all of your life's dreams, but it may remind you that fulfilling them is possible.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Run Time: 1 hours, 54 minutes, Rated PG

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Kathryn Hahn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt

Directed by Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder, Zoolander, The Cable Guy, Reality Bites)

Opens locally on Wednesday, Dec 25, 2013 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.

Subscribe above for email alerts of all movie reviews and news, and follow me on Twitter, @tomsantilli and at TomSantilli.com.

How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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