In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller steps from daydream into reality in more ways than one
Ben Stiller, 48, has been stuck in doof- mode for far too long. Mention Stiller's name and the first thing you recall is Cameron Diaz using Stiller's juju-juice as hair gel.
But Stiller has shown signs of brilliance throughout his 27-year- long career. He was a wiz (I'm not making a pun, I promise) at playing the ass who still tugged at your heartstrings in movies like Reality Bites and the off-the-wall dig at the fashion industry Zoolander, both of which he directed.
Starring in multiple movies each year since 1986 and sitting in the comedy pocket for close to three decades made it tough for Stiller to avoid being typecast. So he did what he does best. He worked hard.
He made good on his childhood dream of directing and, unlike Adam Sandler, did not shy away from playing the bad guy in films like Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and a memorable, if brief, guest stint on the TV-phenom Friends. Even better, he did not wait around for the Hollywood machine to green light his ideas. Putting his money where his mouth was, he donned the producer's hat for some two dozen films and TV shows.
His smartest move, however, was starring in ensemble productions like Tropic Thunder (Stiller directed and generously let Robert Downey Jr steal his thunder) and the Tower Heist.
After seeing him secure his offspring's offspring's retirement with the Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents franchises (and Zoolander 2 and Dodgeball 2 in the pipeline), it is good to see Stiller make more interesting movie choices like the G-rated The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Mitty is me
The thin story line successfully turns into a very poignant movie because it is something many of us living in 2014 can relate to. You could probably be Walter Mitty. I know I could be.
I certainly have daydreamed about scaling the Himalayas. But when I finally go, I bet I won't see a snow leopard anywhere near natives playing soccer. And I won't join them despite the lack of oxygen at that altitude.
Walter Mitty is the “negative assets manager” of a soon- to-be-downsized- from-print-to-web Life magazine. Something that really happened to the 28-year-old photojourn magazine when it became Life. com in 2009—until it was relegated to a photo channel on Time. com three years later.
The viewer of 2014 will probably think a negative asset has something to do with property that costs the company but doesn't turn a profit. Not so. Negative assets are actual photo negatives, the material that, for 20- odd years, Life turned into breathtaking visual treks through history.
Walter repeatedly zones out during his unexciting days in a very hi-tech, low-touch, New York world.
The zone-out scenes save the first half of the film from being as gray as the Time-Life Building interiors in Manhattan.
It is also a joy to watch a movie that, from the creative opening credits, obviously burned a lot of the Stillers' inheritance.
The first daydream has Walter propelling his body from a train platform through the window of an adjacent building (Stiller's first Tom Cruise moment) to save, what would turn out to be, his crush's three-limbed dog from an explosion. While nimbly jogging away from said explosion, Walter presents the pooch to its pretty owner—along with a prosthetic paw he apparently fabricated on the way down!
The usually wacky Kristen Wiig was unrecognizable in her role as Cheryl, Walter Mitty's office crush turned muse. Who knew she could look so sane and pretty when she always had an overbite and doll-hair on Saturday Night Live?
Stiller has several Tom Cruise moments. But he surpasses Cruise by looking cool on a longboard—volcanic rocks strapped to his hands with his office tie to serve as brakes during sharp turns. Cruise probably hasn't touched a skateboard, much less a longboard, since he was Thomas Mapother back in sixth grade.
The longboard scene on the winding, open roads of Seyðisfjarðarvegur, Seydisfjordur, Iceland (say that fast, three times) is one of those great film moments that will make it to many an Oscar tribute for years to come. That Stiller had to wait until he was pushing 50 to do a scene like that is brilliant! They will probably close with it when they give him a lifetime achievement award someday or pay homage to him after he dies.
No one got up
The Icelandic sequences make a better pitch for the country's tourism industry (if it has one) than a commercial on CNN.
The film unfolded so beautifully that no one got up at the end of the film. It's either that or people stayed behind to read the closing location credits.
Or the theater was under instructions not to turn on the house lights, so people expected an epilogue or outtakes à la Jackie Chan.
Whatever the reason may be, half the audience applauded at the end of the movie. The other half was probably a jaded Manila crowd—who would only applaud if it was announced that they could win trips to all the places shown in the movie. I raced for the restroom.
This film is definitely worth the viewing and holding your bladder for 114 minutes. And I'd probably watch it again when it comes out on cable.
Oh and here's a bit of trivia: Stiller once shot a spoof of the Tom Cruise-Paul Newman film The Color of Money and played Cruise's role.
And Stiller and Cruise are both five- foot-seven.
But Stiller is more rugged and manly, especially in this.