Nick Nolte leans past a rotund mountain beauty to help her prise her underwear from the tumbler of a washing machine, getting nice and close he breathes ‘I’m a panty-ologist’. Its hard not to laugh at just how silly Nolte is willing to be. This is typical of what to expect from Ken Kwapis’ A Walk in the Woods, a geriatric travel movie for the viewer more interested in a laid-back adventure.
Bill Bryson (Robert Redford playing the real life travel writer) returns to his Native America after two decades in England and feels at odds with his homeland. Deciding to hike the 2180 mile Appalachian Trail as a kind of personal test, he pairs up with his estranged friend Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) and the two set off on an adventure of self-discovery.
You can’t really complain about a film like A Walk in the Woods because it’s just too damn pleasant. The latest feature on a CV already boasting successful turns in romantic comedy (He’s Just Not That Into You) and coming-of-age flick (Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants), Kwapis seems to be most comfortable relaying delightful tales of average people on life-changing journeys.
Narratively there’s little going on though, the two venerable gents wander through their adventure getting into silly interactions and dodgy scrapes, meeting hell and high weather on their journey. There’s a significant amount of heart in just how playful the whole thing is, even when the stakes are seemingly high, little threat is introduced in order to allow full enjoyment of the aura around these two doddering friends.
Make no mistake, Woods is a film resting on the laurels of its two leads. Redford and Nolte are obviously having a blast running around, playing at being younger men yet entertaining with the fact they are most definitely not. I don’t know who had the idea to put Nolte on a woodland hike but thank God they did. Katz is a beast of boyish charm and outdated anecdote, but Nolte lends considerable gravitas, and one hell of a voice, to a man out for some form of late-life redemption. Redford doesn’t have much to work with, but he is Robert Redford so you’re really watching it to see him do things that old people do, he just looks better doing them than you will. Emma Thompson appears as Bryson’s wife, but she’s really just here to add a voice of comic reason.
Not particularly well scored and pretty boringly shot, A Walk in the Woods relies on its stunning mountain scenery and the charisma of its cast to coast you from start to finish. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel fans will love this pleasant adventure.
Dir: Ken Kwapis
Stars: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen