There's fun galore as Ben Stiller re-imagines humorist James Thurber's whimsically poignant 1939 New Yorker short story about a daydreamer, living a life of quiet desperation.
Meek Walter Mitty (Stiller) is a back-room office staffer at Life magazine in New York. He has a crush on co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) but is too shy to ask her out on a date. Instead, he fantasizes about how he could woo and win her heart. His exotic, romantic reveries are in stark contrast with the economic reality that Life will soon go digital and, according to callous executive Ted (Adam Scott), all non-vital employees will be fired. But there's one last print issue -- and Walter, as the magazine's "negative asset manager," has somehow misplaced the pivotal photograph for the final commemorative cover that was sent by revered, peripatetic photojournalist Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn). Determined to retrieve the missing shot, he pursues elusive O'Connell, following him to Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan.
Cleverly adapted by Steven Conrad and adroitly directed by Stiller ("Zoolander," "Tropic Thunder"), it's filled with quirky, wistful wonderment. While the message is far from subtle, it's heartfelt and exhilarating, particularly when timid Walter realizes his own potential: jumping out of a helicopter with a drunken pilot (Olafur Olafsson), swimming with sharks and -- best of all -- skateboarding toward an erupting volcano. For film aficionados, there's also a spoof of "Benjamin Button." While the strong supporting cast includes Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn, it's really all Stiller's show.
Hollywood history: back in 1947, Samuel Goldwyn's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" became one of playful Danny Kaye's most popular comedies, featuring Virginia Mayo and Boris Karloff. Over the years, there have been plans for remakes starring Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson or Sasha Baron Cohen -- but, until now, none panned out.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a sincerely sweet, if somewhat sappy 7. It's a zany holiday fantasy that should amuse the whole family.