An uneventful ‘Walk in the Woods’

Published 11:37 pm Thursday, September 3, 2015

“A Walk in the Woods” is the new movie that’s based on Bill Bryson’s humorous travel memoir, and it was originally conceived as a reunion of sorts for Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That plan fell apart with Newman’s death in 2008, but Bryson’s fans rejoiced when irascible character actor Nick Nolte signed up and the movie was back on track.

This is Bryson’s story, here portrayed as an aging writer (Redford) who feels the need to get out and hike the Appalachian Trail. His wife (Emma Thompson) is understandably worried about her husband’s ability to conquer the 2,200-mile journey on foot and insists that he take along a travel companion.

Enter Bryson’s long-forgotten friend, Stephan Katz (Nick Nolte), who barely seems able to get down the airplane steps, let alone take on one of America’s most daunting hiking trails. Nevertheless, the two aging men set out on their grand adventure, which brings them into contact with annoying fellow travelers (Kristen Schaal), flirtatious innkeepers (Mary Steenburgen) and miles and miles of breathtaking wilderness scenery.

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It’s all quite breathtaking, but the real beauty of the film is watching two very good actors connecting during their lengthy walk in the woods. Redford and Nolte’s fan bases will be quite pleased watching these two men huff and puff their way down the trail. They have a nice, easy chemistry that gives the film its enjoyably relaxed vibe.

Of course audiences generally want something more thrilling than two old guys out on a nature hike, so the film tries to shoehorn in some physical comedy moments and a few supporting characters. None of that really adds to the film’s enjoyment, and the comedy is a bit distasteful, threatening to turn the film into a “Grumpy Old Men” road trip sequel.

The focus on the physical frailty of two old men is interesting, given that Bryson was in his 40s when he hiked the trail, but Robert Redford is pushing 80. Hollywood has always been good at getting audiences to suspend disbelief, but a simple pratfall might be funny when performed by a younger man. When somebody as old as Robert Redford falls into a river, you worry that the actor might actually hurt himself.

All things considered, “A Walk in the Woods” is still an enjoyable, yet bland cinematic trifle. I certainly enjoyed the scenery and the acting; I just wish that the screenplay had better things for Redford and Nolte to do.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at