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Posted on Thu. Dec. 26, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Movie review: Ben Stiller takes a strong dramatic turn in ‘Mitty’

A daydreaming photo editor starts having adventures.

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Film review

'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'

What: Ben Stiller stars in this contemporary adaptation of author James Thurber's 1939 short story of the same name.

Where playing: Carmike-Jefferson Pointe, Coldwater, Huntington 7

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Rating: PG for some crude comments, language and action violence.

3 stars out of four

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LOS ANGELES — Marketed as Ben Stiller's bend toward drama, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” finds the actor, who also directed the feature, seemingly exuding super-human strength while jumping between buildings and battling his nemesis as they surf asphalt.

The lampoonlike scenarios seem far too fanciful when attempting to take Stiller seriously. But these are just the narratives the title character weaves in his mind. In reality, Walter Mitty, played by a poised and sincere Stiller, is an insecure photo editor with an affinity for daydreaming.

Adapted from a short story of the same name, which was written by James Thurber and was published in 1939 in The New Yorker, the outlandish scenes in “Mitty” bring the most memorable element of the original tale — reality bending — to the forefront.

Thurber's sarcastic narrative found Walter Mitty at odds with his bickering wife and escaping his humdrum life by daydreaming he was a war hero, surgeon and sharp shooter. The first rendering of “Mitty,” which maintained Thurber's comedic tone, was realized on film in 1947.

Written by Steven Conrad, the contemporary rendition sees the real world altered with such wild inflection that it's hard to digest. Visual techniques like interspersing the text of the opening credits into Walter's surroundings, prove to be the most innovative and clever effect of the picture.

Stiller's Walter works at Life magazine, which is transitioning from print to digital. A brilliantly vexing Adam Scott plays Ted Hendricks, the ringleader of a band of executives who've come to supervise the completion of the last issue and fire a large chunk of the magazine's staff. Ted takes to bullying Walter, who must pin down the negative image for the final cover.

Unable to locate the image, which was shot by a long-standing Life magazine photographer, Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), Walter heads to Greenland where he hopes to find Sean and his coveted shot.

Once there, Walter jumps out of a helicopter only to be nearly eaten by a shark when landing in the ocean. It's such a heart-pounding experience that even Walter wonders if what he just endured was real. As we watch Walter's world open up, we follow his journey across alluring locations like the Himalayas. When we finally meet Sean, who is perched on a mountain waiting for the perfect shot, he speaks to Walter's evolution as he tells him he sometimes prefers to savor his personal moments instead of being distracted by his camera.


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