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December 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty clearly represents a big dream of Ben Stiller to become something more than the sum of his movie parts so far. But few critics indicate that he has succeeded in that ambition. Kyle Smith in the New York Post says that the film has been directed by Stiller “in what looks like one of his last desperate reaches for artistic importance.” The film, he writes, is little more than a “meaningless excuse for special-effects spending.” But that, he concludes, may be what drives studio spenders nowadays. “That this movie got made at all demonstrates that Hollywood thinks that if it can design a project so as to yield half a dozen different digital sequences for the trailer, no one will much care about whether they add up to anything,” Smith comments. Claudia Puig in USA Today doesn’t come down on Stiller quite as harshly. Nevertheless, she describes the film as “well-intentioned but insipid … disappointingly bland.” The story — it was first turned into a movie in 1947 with Danny Kaye as the star — was first conceived by James Thurber as a short story in 1939. And Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Globe and Mail remarks: “Stretching Thurber’s three-page story to near epic two-hour proportions, Stiller not only trims the author’s prickliness but betrays it, rendering a caustic cautionary fable of unfulfilled grandiosity into yet another paean to the undiminished triumph of the human spirit.” On the other hand, several critics suggest that if Stiller has not created the kind of movie that will win him lasting esteem, he has made an enjoyable soufflé. “Stiller’s sensibility creates a movie that’s smarter than you think it will be. Kind of like Walter Mitty himself,” writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. And writing a largely positive review in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Steven Rea nevertheless remarks, “Disappointingly, Stiller’s film falls back into its own comfort zone of Hollywood formula. In its third act, the film loses some of its pop, its surprise. But the momentum Stiller has built up … carries the movie a long way. Falling short of fantastic, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is still a fantasy to enjoy.”