Ben Stiller’s upcoming remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a project I’ve been dimly aware of without ever really stopping to think about it — and certainly not in an awards-season context. I take Stiller’s directorial output more seriously than most, and can quote hefty chunks of “Zoolander” dialogue on command, but somehow imagined he was taking the popular 1947 Danny Kaye vehicle in a sketchier direction than that suggested by this breathless Empire preview of the fantasy, in which Stiller stars as a magazine employee escaping his mundane existence (and pursuing love) via lavish daydreams.
To be fair, they’re not the first to do so: writing from CinemaCon in April, where Fox previewed some footage of the Christmas Day release, Anne Thompson was sufficiently wowed by what she saw to anticipate “a no-holds-barred year-end Oscar campaign” from the studio — noting that eventual Oscar winner “Life of Pi” was first teased by Fox in the same slot. Empire writer Mark Dinning, after seeing a 13-minute reel of footage, doesn’t mince words, describing what he saw as “fucking magical.”
Fox is keeping that magic tightly under wraps for the moment: the new images released with the Empire piece don’t exactly give much away — except that one of the fantasies evidently involves a skateboard and an austere Icelandic landscape. Dinning’s verbal description of the footage he saw is rather more intriguing: Kristen Wiig, as a fantastical incarnation of Stiller’s love interest, sings David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” while Stiller’s Mitty jumps in and out of a helicopter, before facing a Great White in the ocean. Yeah, I’m curious.
The film also stars Shirley MacLaine, Patton Oswalt, Sean Penn and Adam Scott, though will surely be primarily a showcase for Stiller, who has drawn indirect “Forrest Gump” comparisons. Fox chairman Jim Gianopoulos, unsurprisingly, likens it to “Life of Pi.” In other words, there’s hardly enough information yet to sensibly guess if the film’s a feast or a folly, but it has my attention. Kris currently has it down for a Best Makeup nod — which would already be an improvement on the Oscar record of its 1947 predecessor — but there may be more to it than that. Or not. You know how it is.