Ben Stiller directs and stars in this heavy-handed but warm-hearted film of the 1939 James Thurber story that gave the world a nickname for men who daydream about acts of heroism. Stiller’s Mitty is a photo researcher at Life magazine who escapes his humdrum existence by imagining himself in swashbuckling situations – giving Stiller a fantastic excuse for breathtaking locations, show-off effects and Kristen Wiig as the secret object of his affections. When Mitty is faced with redundancy, he turns his dreams into reality, travelling the globe to find a lost negative for the magazine’s final cover.
And so Mitty’s far-fetched dreams come true – and the underlying you-can-do-it message is laid on pretty thick. The film is at its best when played as goofy comedy (there’s a great Benjamin Button-style moment when we see Stiller as an elderly baby). The later, country-hopping scenes feel like flicking through an old copy of National Geographic only to find Sean Penn (playing the mysterious photographer who snapped the missing shot) lurking in its pages as the paragon of outsider authenticity. Cloying at times – but always good-natured.