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The 'Mitty' gritty: remake just so-so

Director/star Ben Stiller brings big-budget treatment to a small subject in his spotty adaptation of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

THE ONLY way to enjoy "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is to ignore its frayed connection to the famous short story, and to take this reworked material on its own.

Even then, it's a strange ride, the story of a day-dreaming loner (Ben Stiller) who learns to leave his comfort zone - an intimate story that director Stiller chooses to tell on a gigantic scale.

Shut-in Walter (Stiller) works in the photo morgue of a dying magazine, and he's put in charge of the precious photo negative that will provide the cover image of the final print issue.

He loses the negative, putting him in the crosshairs of the magazine's ruthless new owner (Adam Scott), who's shrinking the magazine down to digital size. So Walter sets out on a frantic mission to find the fearless globe-trotting phographer (Sean Penn) who shot the roll.

James Thurber's story kept Walter's fantasy life and actual life in permanent, comic opposition. Here, Walter needs to grow from introvert to extrovert, so his fantasy sequences (awkwardly integrated) gradually ebb and disappear, as we take up Walter's mad dash through Iceland, Greenland and Afghanistan.

These scenes are spectacular to look at, and there are some funny moments - Walter's encounter with a drunken pilot (Olafur Darri Olafsson) in Greenland, for instance.

Other relationships get erratic treatment - Walter's shy romance with an office mate (Kristen Wiig), his relationship with his mother (Shirley MacLaine).

The movie's scale (gorgeous location shooting in Iceland, Greenland, the Himalayas) sets up expectations of Big Emotions or a big finish, but it turns out to be a different kind of movie, quiet toward the end and a little sad.

For all its flaws, the movie ultimately attains a peacefulness that may appeal to you in this season of loud, long, look-at-me epics.