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A Walk in the Woods Movie Review

A Walk in the Woods (2014) movie poster A Walk in the Woods

Theatrical Release: September 2, 2015 / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Ken Kwapis / Writers: Bill Bryson (book); Rick Kerb, Bill Holderman (screenplay)

Cast: Robert Redford (Bill Bryson), Nick Nolte (Stephen Katz), Emma Thompson (Catherine Bryson), Nick Offerman (REI Dave), Kristen Schaal (Mary Ellen), Mary Steenburgen (Jeannie), R. Keith Harris (Sam Bryson), Susan McPhail (Beulah), Randall Newsome (TV Host), Alex Van (Bunkhouse Peter), John Kap (Beulah's Husband)

 

A Walk in the Woods stars Robert Redford as Bill Bryson, an extensively seasoned writer of travel books who has grown tired of attending funerals and fumbling through words of comfort.
He decides to hike the Appalachian Trail, a scenic path from Georgia to Maine that is a little over 2,000 miles long. Bill's wife (an underused Emma Thompson, age-appropriate only in Hollywood) insists that the only way she'll condone someone his age making this trek is with a hiking partner.

Everyone Bill asks laughs off the invitation. Then Bill gets a call from his old friend Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), who volunteers to join him on this daunting journey. Katz is in no shape to jog up and down a street, let alone climb hills and mountains with a heavy backpack on his shoulders. Nonetheless, the two old men set out to prove everyone doubting them wrong and be among the few (of the many who hike the trail) to actually complete it.

In "A Walk in the Woods", old friends Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) and Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail in full.

Walk is a buddy comedy, a road trip film, and an old people movie. It subverts expectations for each of those subgenres on occasion. For instance, rather than going for the commercially desirable PG-13 rating that would align with geriatric tastes, it takes an R for language and sex talk. And despite starring two actors in their seventies, the movie resists going for Last Vegas-type old man jokes involving overactive bladders, early dinners, and Viagra.

Between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, Redford starred in two of the most iconic comedies of the 20th Century's third quarter. (His partner in crime, Paul Newman, was intended to reteam with him on this back when it was first optioned in 1998.) But Redford's spent a really long time away from the genre, preferring to act in political thrillers and soulful dramas. The years have dulled his comic instincts, making his quippy banter easy to doubt. Nolte is more effective at drawing laughs with his old grizzly bear act. I'm not convinced it is an act as much as a lifetime of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs taking their toll on him. With his face perpetually red and his dialogue always gravely and tinged with indigestion, it's kind of surprising that any studio would feel comfortable insuring him for a movie about hiking.

Of course, the movie noticeably resorts to stunt doubles almost anytime the leads have to do more than sit or walk, which is somewhat regularly. Walk is broad at times, even kind of slapsticky. But every time it inches towards all out farce, as in a subplot involving the irate husband of a heavy woman whom Katz has bought a large pair of granny panties or a nighttime encounter with two bears, the movie pulls back to show us scenic long shots of the forest and remind us this journey is supposed to have weight and meaning. At its most tender, the film resembles Reese Witherspoon's Wild, only with two old guys sharing her role. But then, a bunk bed breaks and one of the guys gets peed on.

Academy Award winner Emma Thompson holds the thankless tertiary role of Bill's soon forgotten wife Catherine. Kristen Schaal provides some comic spark as Mary Ellen, an annoying know-it-all hiker the guys encounter on the Appalachian Trail.

Adapted from the 1998 book by the real Bryson, who is now only 63, A Walk in the Woods never commits to one label, which is fine. But it also never excels at any of the forms it adopts. It intermittently diverts, as when Kristen Schaal shows up as a know-it-all hiker who keeps the guys up with her loud in-tent renditions of "Get Lucky."
But it never fully endears or strikes you as a true story that is either believable or remarkable.

Director Ken Kwapis adds another mediocre at best credit to his theatrical track record, which continues to pale in comparison to his TV work that includes "The Office", "Freaks and Geeks", and mid-series "ER." Walk is more likely to inspire the apathy that met his last movie, the true story Big Miracle, than the disdain that License to Wed drew and He's Just Not That Into You deserved. Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman (a repeat Redford producer and evidently friend) each pick up their first screenwriting credits here, although IMDb indicates they do so by reworking an earlier script by an uncredited Michael Arndt, whose career has briefly but curiously stalled since his winning work on such hits as Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3, Brave, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Walk is the fourth and by far widest release to date from Broad Green Pictures, a young distributor of relatively low-budget but somewhat talent-rich indie and foreign films. Its mid-week opening gives it a two day jump on The Transporter Refueled, a reboot that doesn't at all resemble direct competition this coming Labor Day weekend.

Related Reviews:
The Big Year Old Dogs Wild Hogs Last Vegas The Guilt Trip Danny Collins
Robert Redford: Captain America: The Winter Soldier An Unfinished Life Sacred Planet
Nick Nolte: Tropic Thunder Gangster Squad Arthur U Turn The Thin Red Line New York Stories Run All Night
Nick Offerman: The Kings of Summer Somebody Up There Likes Me | Kristen Schaal: When in Rome Dinner for Schmucks
Mary Steenburgen: Did You Hear About the Morgans? The Proposal Four Christmases
Now in Theaters: Mistress America The End of the Tour The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Ant-Man
Directed by Ken Kwapis: License to Wed He's Just Not That Into You

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Reviewed September 2, 2015.



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