The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
D+ The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a movie for anyone prone to existential crises during soft-drink commercials. Based on James Thurber’s 1939 short story about a teenage punk rocker-turned-graying office drone with severe delusional psychosis (because one can only assume director-star Ben Stiller remained totally faithful to the source material), the film adopts a long-winded motto from Life magazine as its motivational tagline-cum-greeting card message that can be easily distilled down to “Do the Dew, brah!” Spurred by a shitty new boss (Adam Scott with General Zod facial hair), love interest (Kristen Wiig, less phoning in her performance than texting it while in line at the post office) and spirit animal (Sean Penn), Stiller’s Mitty sets off to make his vivid daydreams into reality. Soon he’s bounding through airports to the tune of Arcade Fire, leaping out of helicopters, fighting sharks and skateboarding toward erupting volcanoes. The thing quickly blows up into an extended Super Bowl ad break—complete with promotions for eHarmony, Papa John’s, Cinnabon and whatever cellphone carrier has coverage in the Himalayas—with all the heart and genuine emotion that suggests. PG. MATTHEW SINGER.
The Wolf of Wall Street
A Martin Scorsese’s best picture since Goodfellas and his fifth with Leonardo DiCaprio is at once hilarious, terrifying, hallucinogenic, infuriating, awe-inspiring, meandering and, at three hours, utterly exhausting. It’s also (in this critic’s opinion) the best movie of the year, possibly DiCaprio’s finest work and the bitch slap that Wall Street deserves—even if the true but ludicrous story of financial criminal, stock-market juggernaut and rampant drug addict Jordan Belfort could inspire others to aspire to his level of douchebaggery. This is a man who makes Gordon Gecko seem like Mother Teresa. With his buddies, he runs roughshod over the financial well-being of rich and poor alike and creates for himself a world of drug-addled debauchery that makes Hunter S. Thompson’s escapades seem like a college freshman’s. Some may scoff at the runtime, or at the film’s episodic look into Belfort’s debauchery, but both just serve to further pummel you into submission as our “hero” glides through a privileged life with a steady diet of Quaaludes, cocaine, hookers, alcohol, sushi and hubris. Every moment counts. Every scene is frontloaded with hysterics and backloaded with dread. It is a modern masterpiece of excess, style and lunacy. R. AP KRYZA.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
C Arriving with morbidly perfect timing, this by-the-numbers biopic about the recently deceased South African leader tries for Gandhi greatness but fails to hit any sort of mark. Dutifully marching through a highlights reel of Nelson Mandela’s life—coming of age in the bush, practicing law in Johannesburg, helping establish the military wing of the African National Congress, enduring 27 years in prison—Justin Chadwick’s film isn’t savvy enough to investigate any of the more compelling narrative threads. Why did Mandela’s second wife, Winnie, grow increasingly radical even as her husband moved away from such tactics? How did political ideals butt up against pragmatic concerns during the negotiations for Mandela’s freedom? Instead, Chadwick cuts between stirring speeches and soft-focus flashbacks, with occasional context-free bursts of archival footage tossed in seemingly for the hell of it. Idris Elba, despite looking far too much like a linebacker to bear much of a physical resemblance to the real man, successfully adopts Mandela’s commanding presence and distinctive speech patterns, but he can’t save a film so hagiographic and uninspired. PG-13. REBECCA JACOBSON.
C 47 Ronin’s most enjoyable moments are also its most ludicrous. These include, but are not limited to: an attack from a roving beast that might generously be described as “mythical”; a shape-shifting witch helping a court official usurp his rival’s power, thereby springing the masterless samurai of the title into vengeful action; and a pep talk beginning with the words, “What I propose ends in death.” Keep in mind that Carl Erik Rinsch’s $175 million film is based on actual 18th-century events, happenings that presumably did not resemble Mortal Kombat or Princess Mononoke in the slightest. These fantastical elements are never acknowledged as such, which is probably a good thing. Any in-depth explanation of how and why the “half-breed” played by Keanu Reeves ended up exiled to a Dutch island, forced to fight a giant to the death, would only distract from the goofy spectacle of it all. All of which is a long way of saying that Rinsch’s take on one of Japan’s most famous stories is a curious folly, albeit an almost endearingly sincere (and strange) one that seems to revere its legendary source material as much as it distorts it. PG-13. MICHAEL NORDINE.
D During the enfeebled showdown that caps Peter Segal’s “grumpy old men come to blows” dramedy, television announcers remind us that old rivals Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) both walked away from boxing while at the height of their powers and with virtually unblemished records. Having endured almost two insufferable hours of punishingly lame gags and limp training montages (rest assured, raw eggs are as disgusting as ever), viewers can’t help but be taunted by a “what if?” scenario in which these screen icons demonstrate a similar desire to go out on top. With Stallone moping nobly and De Niro mugging shamelessly, their demeanors rarely suggest that 30 years of resentment are reaching a simmer, much less a boil. The other relationships are similarly unconvincing, with Stallone’s romance with Kim Basinger (seemingly in an opioid haze) proving spectacularly anemic. In turn, the seniors’ climactic bout might be the most dispiriting scene to unfold in a boxing ring since a broken-down Mike Tyson surrendered to Kevin McBride back in 2005. At least Tyson had the decency to admit it was just a cash grab. PG-13. CURTIS WOLOSCHUK.
SEE IT: All films open Wednesday, Dec. 25.