mitty

It would be one thing if that were an isolated issue, but the sheer amount of branded products bandying about the film both in plot and just in the background (a key moment takes place in the shadow of a massive Chase Bank sign) that it almost seems like a self-aware joke that never fully pays off. Along with E-Harmony, two major plot points revolve around the pizza chain Papa John's - which ends up creating a plot-impossibility more amusing than anything in the film: Walter apparently worked there as a teenager (giving up his adventurous dreams in order to work and support his widowed mother functions as a kind of "origin story" for his sad-sackery.) Papa John's was not founded until 1984. Ben Stiller is 48 years old.

Nice try, Ben.

After a point, it just becomes surreal: Another key scene involves Walter meeting up with a representative of one of the brands featured in the plot (it'd be a spoiler to say precisely which one) who serves as a kind of Guardian Angel figure appearing to facilitate the penultimate "So, what have you learned?" exchange with our hero. His first contribution? "Let's go get some Cinnabon!"

And it all looks all the more strange because the film looks (and sounds) gorgeous. Despite the Adam Sandler-ready construction (dopey middle-class loser finds meaning through wacky adventures he's cartoonishly unprepared for) and shameless corporate plugging, the film's visual and aural cues are culled from the handbook of Indie Comedy: Meticulously-composed shots, crisp high-contrast cinematography, an existential-melancholy premise (again - our hero's job is to help micromanage The End of Life) and a Starbucks Sampler CD soundtrack of classic and indie-rock staples. For whatever reason, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, despite being a textbook simple-syrup Xmas-season family comedy (just blandly inoffensive enough for everybody!), wants to look and sound like a Spike Jonze piece.

There's a scene (depressingly) early on that typifies the film: Through contrivances too awkward to explain, Walter has wound up back at the office with his childhood Stretch Armstrong doll in tow. He gets into an elevator with the evil Adam Scott character, whose obnoxious behavior triggers a daydream sequence wherein he tries to grab Stretch away and the ensuing struggle explodes into a Man of Steel-style superhuman fistfight; with the two men tearing apart the city as they bounce around, toward and away from eachother like human wrecking balls tethered by grips on the doll's elastic arms. It goes on for a bit, looks extremely impressive and imaginative... and then it ends, with Walter blinking back to reality where his nemesis once against shrugs off his "weirdness" as he departs the elevator.

The story hasn't moved, no new information or development has been established. Nothing, in effect, has happened. You can see the germ of an idea there: Walter's insecurities about work projecting as a scenario where his boss is acting full-stop like a schoolyard bully trying to yank away what amounts to a security blanket. But it doesn't have anything to do with anything, when all is said and done. Just a "cool moment" to fill time. The live-action equivalent of a Family Guy tangent, specifically a chicken fight - except Peter's semi-annual battles with The Giant Chicken at least contain an element of parody (of the perfunctory nature of action movie setpieces and, by now, self-awareness of their own odd place in the series' legacy) to justify their existence. Walter Mitty has no such luck.

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