It’s a well-loved movie, whose central character has become a byword for a daydreamer or fantasist. You’ve got an A-list comedy actor and writer on board as both star and director. What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, the fact that the remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty spent the best part of 20 years in Development Hell should have been a warning. It was first mooted in 1994 by Samuel Goldwyn Jr, whose father had produced the 1947 version starring Danny Kaye, with Jim Carrey in the lead role this time around. Along the way, various directors had apparently agreed to make the film, including Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, and a variety of famous stars came and went after Carrey dropped out, including Owen Wilson, Mike Myers and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Eventually, the job fell to Ben Stiller, who stars and directs, with a script by Steven Conrad, who wrote The Pursuit of Happyness. The result was hardly worth the wait.
In this version, 42-year-old daydreaming singleton Walter Mitty is a ‘negative asset manager’ (he processes photographs) at Life magazine. The magazine has been taken over and the new owners are planning to end publication in print, with mass redundancies as a result. Meanwhile, Mitty himself has signed up to online dating-service eHarmony in an attempt to get closer to a colleague, single mother Cheryl (Kirsten Wiig). The complications start because the final magazine cover is going to be an image sent in by star photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). But Mitty can’t find the picture. The film charts his attempts to woo Cheryl and to find O’Connell (who is off somewhere in the world photographing something or other).
What follows is a bit of a mess, taking us on a trip via Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan to the trite conclusion that if you only stop dreaming and actually try to embrace life you can be happy and fulfilled. Okay, carpe diem is not the worst message in the world, by any means, but this is a shallow movie that seems to think it has something heartfelt and important to say.