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Ben Stiller’s career can be considered a mess of contradictions. When he acts, he often defers to uneven Meet the Parents sequels or palatable but unchallenging family features like the Night at the Museum efforts. Yet when he directs, we’re treated to truly groundbreaking comedic classics like Tropic Thunder, The Cable Guy and Reality Bites.
So which will we get when Stiller directs himself in an adaptation of James Thurber’s short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, as Variety reports? Will it be as twisted and aggressive as Thunder or as safe as a Madagascar sequel?
Thurber’s original story, first published in 1939, follows a meek protagonist with an overactive imagination who dreams up endless adventures he’d like to go on to escape the doldrums of his everyday existence. The story inspired a 1947 movie with Danny Kaye in the lead, but the proposed remake has languished in developmental hell for decades. Names like Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard were attached to direct other Walter Mitty efforts with comedians like Jim Carrey and Mike Myers rumored for the lead. Now it appears Stiller has secured both roles, as director and actor, and will begin working on an adaptation for 20th Century Fox.
The trade says Steve Conrad, who wrote The Pursuit of Happyness for Will Smith, will tackle the Mitty screenplay, though we hope that Stiller will punch it up with his own unique sense of humor now that he’s on board. The premise still suggests a Museum-type adventure, in which Stiller interacts with a handful of CGI sequences as he delves deeper and deeper into Walter Mitty’s imagination. But some of the personalities included in Thurber’s original story could be demented. In one subplot, Walter imagined himself as a killer. So maybe there are some dark avenues for Stiller to explore in this project. It doesn't have to be a family friendly form of escapism.