Like the '90s, Ben Stiller loves sarcasm -- he even cast himself as the most handsome man in the world -- but his films are sincere within their worlds: Derek Zoolander really is a gorgeous model, and Tropic Thunder's Kirk Lazarus is invested in his blackface. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty drops all the irony. The story of a shy magazine employee with a magnificent imagination, it's an uplifting, big-hearted crowd-pleaser. Which, in today’s Hollywood, where every superhero has a standing Thursday appointment with a therapist, makes it defiantly uncool. The disaffectedness Stiller popularized in Reality Bites is biting him in the ass. As in the original James Thurber short story, Mitty dreams he's leading a more exciting life -- a Hollywood fantasy. Here, he imagines larger-than-life heroes and toughs in the visual language of film: The leaves swirl, the music quickens, and his eyes burn. Eventually Mitty sets out on a real adventure to track down a wild-man photographer (Sean Penn). The film thrills at this quest; the National Geographic-quality vistas are almost distractingly beautiful, the indie ballads one synthesizer chord short of emotional overkill. Yet Stiller balances his big ambitions with small, grounded truths -- after visiting a volcano, Mitty goes to a Papa John's and balances his checkbook. Globe-trotting ain't cheap. Like Mitty, Stiller dreams big. The problem is that audiences have trouble dividing Stiller the actor -- the paycheck-cashing doofus of Night at the Museum -- from Stiller the director, whose last film scored Robert Downey Jr. an Oscar nomination (for a summer comedy!). He's both famous and forgotten, the best comedy director of his generation hiding in plain sight.