Review: A Walk in the Woods
PLOT: Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) an aging travel writer decides to hike the Appalachian trail. Forced by his headstrong wife (Emma Thompson) to bring a companion, Bryson brings along his long-estranged former best friend, the slovenly Katz (Nick Nolte) and the two old guys bicker their way across the trail and try to prove to themselves that they're not too old for an adventure.
REVIEW: Considering the fact that Sundance is Robert Redford's own festival, there's something significant about the fact that he's always been reticent to have the fest feature his own work. In the opening remarks the festival programmer stated that Redford had no idea A WALK IN THE WOODS was going to make it's world premiere at the fest until after it had been programmed.
Certainly, Redford's got nothing to be ashamed of A WALK IN THE WOODS, a project he's long been keen on adapting (based on the real Bryson's memoirs). Still, it's a fairly innocuous film and in the hands of director Ken Kwapis (LICENCE TO WED & THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTS) it's ultra conventional and closer to a movie like WILD HOGS than WILD which coincidentally also took place on the Appalachian trail.
Given that Redford co-stars with old buddy Nick Nolte, it's easy to cut the movie a little slack, especially early on. The two have good chemistry and look like they're having a ball, even if Nolte, with his permanently pink face seems way too out of shape to ever reasonably attempt something like he does here. Still, he brings energy and vitality (and tons of four-letter-words) to the part, and him and Redford have the right kind of easygoing camaraderie, where each constantly takes the piss out of the other, to make you believe that they've been lifelong friends.
On that note, it's a shame WOODS goes for the easy laugh every chance it gets, with tons of jokes centered around Nolte being horny, Redford being annoyed, and the two being way too out-of-shape to go very far (although Redford looks remarkably fit). The jokes are easy and at a certain point this starts to feel like another GRUMPY OLD MEN or LAST VEGAS, with the clear intention here being to make a commercial film rather than the thoughtful meditation on old age and nature that one might assume this would be given the material and Redford's involvement.
Another issue is that movies like this pretty much have to be episodic, but as opposed to INTO THE WILD and WILD, the episodes aren't very interesting or affecting. They don't get much deeper than a trucker looking to beat up Nolte for seducing his wife, or Kristen Schaal as a motor-mouthed hiker who gets on the fellas' nerves.
Towards the end, the movie tries to switch gears and become a bit more thoughtful, but the climax is utterly ruined by some painfully obvious green screen work. One also questions the wisdom of Kwapis barely featuring any interesting location footage in the film itself, but then showcasing some staggering shots over the end credits by which point it's a little too late to be impressed.
All things considered, A WALK IN THE WOODS is never an obnoxious movie, but it's a thoroughly disappointing one considering the stars. This is the kind of movie that might appeal to an older audience looking for a lighthearted look at old age, but it feels like a wasted opportunity as with better writing, and more evocative direction. Suffice to say, this is no WILD.