Danny Kaye may rest easy in his grave as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty reaches cinemas. Ben Stiller directs and stars in this tame take on the James Thurber story of a man with a fantasy life, last filmed with Kaye in 1947. Steve Conrad’s script sends Mitty around the northern hemisphere, from New York to Iceland, on a quest to retain his career and sustain his love life. The wish-fulfilment fantasy elements – the whole point of the original story – are confined to fly-by visual asides. Blink and you miss them; they almost apologise for their whimsicality.
Perky supporting stars – Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott (funny as a smug business downsizer), Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn – highlight Stiller’s oddly hard-edged, humour-challenged performance. He isn’t the actor for this role. His comic dysfunctionalism is too frowning, too obsessive-compulsive. (He would be good as a Patricia Highsmith murderer, batty, innocent, single-minded.) Walter Mitty needs a Jim Carrey or a Will Ferrell. Then again, perhaps Stiller was too busy shouting “action” behind the camera to provide enough of it, comically, in front.