The more miles, the crankier they get.
Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) is an author who’s feeling like he hasn’t made much of his life recently. Sure, he’s been published an awful-lot, has a lovely wife (Emma Thompson), lives a comfy life in a New Hampshire suburb, and has clearly got family to fall back on for any sort of happiness. But, for some reason, he still feels the need to make something more out of his life, which is why he decides one fateful day that he wants to hike the Appalachian Trail; which, in case you didn’t know, is nearly 2,200 miles. This is way too much for any older person to partake in, let alone, actually complete and be able to tell the tale one day, which is why Bill’s wife makes him take a friend. Well, after much time of coming up empty with most of the people he wanted to bring along on this trip, Bill gets a call from someone he hasn’t talked to in nearly 30 years: Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), an old friend who still owes him money. Though they haven’t really kept-up with one another for a long time, they see this as an opportunity to get back in the swing of things, see some pretty sights, and feel more pleased with their lives, as a whole. Then again, they are pushing 70 and the trip does begin to take a huge toll on them, no matter how hard they try to make it not.
Having been toggled with for nearly decades, the film adaptation of Bill Bryson’s memoir has finally come to the big screen! And even though it doesn’t feature the names it originally had attached like, say, Paul Newman, or Richard Linklater, it’s still got the likes of Nick Nolte, Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, and uhm, Ken Kwapis? The dude who directed Beauty and the Beautician? Hell, even the guy who directed License to Wed?
Well, sadly, yes. Really. And sadly, it just goes to show that Kwapis, even though he may be trying to make a good film here, seems way too out-of-his-depth. He takes what is, essentially, a plot-line that could have been as fun, as insightful, and as entertaining as you’d expect it to be starring two legends of the big-screen such as Redford and Nolte, but literally, turns into nothing. It’s a movie that starts out as being about something, until it turns out that whatever this hiking-trip Bryson’s setting out on, really doesn’t mean anything. The only reason we’re given as to why Bryson would feel so passionate to take a trip like this is because he’s tired of people telling him that he’s too old and can’t do it (which he can’t, because, get this, he’s too old).
As for Katz, the dude just wants some sort of adventure and possibly to hang around an old-pal of his. Is it a little idiotic of him to take this one single opportunity to get that time in? Sure, but he’s definitely a whole lot more sympathetic because of it. Bryson, as written and presented here, is nothing more than just an annoying, over-educated prick who, would much rather speak about the sweet little intricacies of the Maple tree, then actually check in with what his long, lost bud has been up to all these years. Katz, all he wants to do, is talk about getting laid, getting drunk, and any girls that he can remember from the olden-times.
That said, there are bits and pieces of this to be entertained by, solely due to the fact that Redford and Nolte are in these roles, working shop.
Now, had it been Redford and Newman like it was originally planned-out to be, this movie would have been many times better, regardless of problems with the script and/or direction. But that’s not the pairing, or the movie we get; it’s Nolte and Redford and you know what? They do fine together. There’s a nice sense of chemistry between the two that shows in some of the smaller, more intricate moments that you hardly see coming because the movie, as a whole, is a mess and seems more interested in having these old fellas climb out of windows for laughs, rather than actually dig deep into the art of the aging-friendship.
But that said, Nolte and Redford can only carry this so far, until it becomes painstakingly clear that they’re dealing with a crummy movie. And most of this, as much I don’t want to pick on him, comes down to Ken Kwapis. Sure, whatever the hell Redford was thinking allowing for the movie to play-out like this is a point to bring up, but Kwapis really doesn’t put much of an effort into this. The gags are stale; the jokes will occasionally borderline on offensive; and the trip these two take isn’t as eventful, or as lovely as you’d expect it to be because most of the film is filmed in front of a very distracting, cheap-looking green-screen.
If anything, the movie just proves to most film-audiences out there that roles for older-men in their 70’s do come around, except that they open up in films like these. Even though we get a nice supporting cast with names like Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen, and of course, Emma Thompson, none of them get a chance to really bring much to the table that we haven’t seen them do before, or worth their while. Schaal is just there to be loud, nasty, and annoying; Offerman is literally playing Ron Swanson, so much so that I wonder if any copyright issues will be coming out of this; Steenburgen’s character is written so terribly that as soon as she sees Redford in a towel, she can’t help but get ready to jump his bone for no reason, other than the movie needed a slight love-interest; and Thompson, bless her heart, really tries with this role and for the most part, gets away with the effort. There’s a real feeling of heart and humanity to her character that’s hardly anywhere to be found with the other characters and it not only made me wish of a better role for her, but a better movie for her to strut her stuff in.
Consensus: The pairing of Nolte and Redford is just about enough to save A Walk in the Woods from being a total and complete misfire, although, this movie is best watched with a grand-parent by your side, so that they too, can remember the golden days of these guy’s careers.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Variety, Here and Now, and New York Times
Robert Redford will live forever.
I love the early Bryson books, especially A Walk in the Woods and The Lost Continent. I am wary of this adaptation though, and it sounds like it’s a shame Newman and Redford never got the chance to bring Bill’s writing to life.
I agree that Kwapis is way out of his depth with this film. Nothing really happens in it at all. It doesn’t finish anything it starts, including this hike. And I’m glad you point out the irony that he decides to do this trip because he’s tired of people telling him he’s too old, without actually finishing it, because he’s too old. I also agree that Bryson as a character is an annoying over-educated prick. He’s totally that obnoxious know-it-all grandpa. And although Katz is funny as a character, his wild partying ways seem totally out of wack for someone in his 70s. You’re right though that this is a crummy movie and it wastes talented supporting players, including Emma Thompson who is WAY too young to be playing Redford’s wife.