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A WALK IN THE WOODS (director: Ken Kwapis; screenwriters: Bill Holderman/Rick Kerb/based on the book by Bill Bryson; cinematographer: John Bailey; editors: Carol Littleton/ Julie Garcés; music: Nathan Larson; cast: Robert Redford (Bill Bryson), Nick Nolte (Stephen Katz), Emma Thompson (Catherine Bryson), Kristen Schaal (Mary Ellen), Nick Offerman (REI Dave), Mary Steenburgen (Jeannie); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Bill Holderman/Robert Redford/Chip Diggins; Broad Green Pictures; 2015)
“Crudely written in a pedestrian way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A good idea for a metaphoric road buddy film never gets out of the woods. It poops all over the Appalachian Trail without getting the big laughs it wanted from its physical comedy or the respect it desired from its awkward life lessons philosophizing. Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed“/”The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”/”Big Miracle”), a filmmaker whose films I never cared for, weakly helms this lightweight comedy by highlighting a number of contrived uninspiring situations along the trail, one more obnoxious than the other.

It’s based on the 1998 humorous nonfiction book by Bill Bryson, whose two hikers were in their forties while in the film they are in their seventies. It’s crudely written in a pedestrian way by Bill Holderman and Rick Herb, so much so that even a fine actor like Robert Redford seems lost in this simple nostalgic tale that should have been a walk in the park for him.

The well-traveled celebrated aging travel writer, Robert Redford, has a good and faithful marriage to his Brit nurse wife (Emma Thompson), many grandchildren and is in semi-retirement in a comfortable home in Hanover, New Hampshire after spending a few decades living in England. Thinking he must find a way to connect again to his American homeland roots, Redford decides to go in April to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Upon his wife’s insistence to travel with someone else, since she can’t talk him out of this madness, he can only find for a travel companion his overweight crass friend from his youth, a lumbering Nick Nolte. He’s someone in no condition for such a hike, has a lousy overwhelming personality, is a cheating reformed drunk, and, the irresponsible bachelor from Des Moines, the same hometown as Redford, is running away from a thirty-day jail sentence and an unfulfilled life. The grumpy old men opposites lack the ability to walk the entire trail, but insist on trying. The plot hinges on seeing how far they get, their misadventures on the trail and what life lessons are learned from such suffering.

The uncomfortable film, not because of its penetrating subject matter, but because it’s a drudgery to watch its geriatric stars try so desperately to inject some energy into this dull adventure story–something the recent same-themed Wild, with Reese Witherspoon, had no trouble in doing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”