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A Walk in the Woods

This somewhat silly adaptation of Bill Bryson’s book never engages the viewer, or the walker

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Ken Kwapis directs this adaptation of the best-selling Bill Bryson book about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s something of a late-life crisis for Bryson (Robert Redford), who impulsively decides to tackle the 2,200-mile trail. He finds a companion in his estranged pal from decades ago, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), who hasn’t done as well as Bryson professionally, personally or physically. 

It’s a slow-motion road trip, but the film never hits a comfortable stride. The two leads are distracting: The gee-shucks Bryson role doesn’t suit Redford’s life-long career of playing capable outdoorsy dudes, and Nolte is a wheezing, sweating, shaking, lobster-pink mess who seems one stubbed toe away from a Medevac. 

Maybe it’s what you get when two old guys walk through the woods, but the pervasive thread of sexist drivel that runs through this movie isn’t very illuminating, especially when it’s played for easy laughs. In fact, a lot of the material feels massaged to fit a generic movie template. When it’s convenient to the story, the trail is packed; other times it’s bizarrely empty. (In real life, the trail is notoriously over-used.) Also, a bear scare is so badly edited — the animal is clearly in another time and space — that there isn’t a lick of concern.

I dream of super-long walks, and have been vicariously inspired by other movie hikes, including treks along The Camino (The Way) and Pacific Crest Trail (Wild). But Walk in the Woods never conveys the sense of adventure, accomplishment and camaraderie — all tempered, of course, with various miseries — that a grand walk promises. This film hardly motivated me to walk to the bus stop.


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