By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You remember Wild? Think of this one as Mild.READ MORE: 2 Montgomery County School Districts To Require Masks Again Due To County's COVID-19 Level
Like the Reese Witherspoon vehicle of 2014, A Walk in the Woods involves an improbably lengthy hike.
But that was a drama with a little comedy. Very little.
This is a comedy with a little drama. Very little.
A Walk in the Woods stars Robert Redford as real-life travel writer Bill Bryson, who intends to hike the 2,100-mile-plus Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, against the objections of his sensible British wife, played by Emma Thompson, who disapproves entirely but who argues that if he is intent on doing this dangerous thing, at least take someone with him.
Brysdon agrees to do just that, but when his first few choices for a walking mate and traveling companion fall through, he gets a surprise call from an old frenemy, fellow Iowan Stephen Katz, played by co-star Nick Nolte.
Although they had a falling out decades ago, Stephen just heard about the marathon hike and would like to join him despite his many physical ailments.
Katz looks like he won’t even make it out of the driveway, but Bryson agrees.READ MORE: Pennsylvania's US Senate Race Between Republicans Mehmet Oz, Dave McCormick Still Too Close To Call
Along the way, they encounter a flirtatious motel and restaurant owner played by Mary Steenburgen and an annoyingly talkative hiker played by Kristn Schaal.
A genial divertissement, A Walk in the Woods is based on the 1998 book of the same name by Bryson that was adapted by screenwriters Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman.
Director Ken Kwapis, whose background is primarily in comedy (He Said, She Said; The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, He’s Just Not That Into You, Dunston Checks In; Big Miracle) adopts and maintains a droll tone and lets the adventure unroll naturally, getting a few laughs but mostly smiles of recognition.
In other words, it’s relaxed and it’s tame, but it’ll keep that grin on your face throughout.
Kwapis does overplay his hand in depending on the rapport between Redford and Nolte to carry the film like a manageable backpack. But because the script stays so completely on the surface, because no one digs any deeper into mortality-related themes other than aging and friendship along the way, we exit wishing there was more that qualified as gravitas to stay in the memory.
That is, we’ve enjoyed the company of the principals, but we wish it had built to something more in the is-that-all-there-is third act.
As for Redford, on his silent own in 2013’s All is Lost, at least this time he has company on his adopted expedition, which means someone to react to his tendency towards pomposity. And Nolte makes for engaging company at that.
The comedic chemistry between old pros Redford and Nolte as unlikely buddies is a demonstration of what presence and star power are all about. But, ultimately, despite the fact that the universal battle against the inevitable and dispiriting aging process gives the film a bouncy resonance, the film doesn’t end up building too much.
The star turns by Redford (who was also a producer) and Nolte, who are septuagenarians even though the hikers in the book were actually fortysomethings, highlight a project originally intended way back when as a reunion vehicle for Redford and Paul Newman, co-stars of The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with the latter classic western cleverly referenced in a way that no fan of that film will miss.MORE NEWS: CAPA Senior Skyy Brooks Is One Of 20 Students In World Accepted Into Harvard-Berklee's Dual-Degree Program
So we’ll hike 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for an unpretentious geriatric variation of the hike flick. Sitting through A Walk in the Woods is a walk in the park – not life-changing because it doesn’t even try to be, but certainly pleasant.