A Walk in the Woods (3 stars)

A Walk in the Woods

Robert Redford steps into Bill Bryson's hiking boots for an amiable adventure

Trekking to enlightenment seems to be turning into a genre: Tracks, Wild, and now a masculine one for the wrinklies, in which septuagenarians Robert Redford and Nick Nolte lace up the hiking boots, wrestle with massive backpacks and brave the great outdoors. Redford optioned Bill Bryson’s wry 1998 memoir years ago, in the hope of developing it so that himself and his longtime friend Paul Newman could make one last picture together. That, sadly, was not to be.

Redford plays Bryson, although the humorist was still in his 40s when he set himself the challenge of hiking the famous Appalachian Trail that runs over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine through spectacular forests, mountains and valleys. For those of us who still find Redford good company that’s okay. In this adaptation of events, Bryson’s anxious wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) won’t let him go unless he has a companion. Enter a face from his past, Stephen Katz (Nolte), the 1960s schoolmate with whom the young Bryson ricocheted around Europe backpacking. While Redford’s Bryson is fit, cool, calm, reflective and deliciously sarcastic, Nolte’s Katz is a fat, creaky, unhealthily florid slob and recovering alcoholic who doesn’t look like he could walk to the corner. But he’s in flight from something, craves one last adventure, and no-one else wants to come, so Bryson bows to destiny and the odd couple hit the road.

As comic adventures go this is amiable – almost entirely because the interplay between its two stars is engaging – but not sufficiently eventful to qualify as a thigh-slapping misadventure, or a journey to redemption. Director Ken Kwapis (who has an impressive TV sitcom CV, including The Office US, but whose filmography’s high points are He’s Just Not That Into You and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants) seems content to simply trail around with the old boys or, when in doubt, turn the camera on the magical Shenandoah National Park landscapes. There’s a slightly scary bear, a very scary trekker chick, a scarier still amorous motel manager (Mary Steenburgen) and the odd slapstick potential-brush-with-death, but it comes down to two guys walking, talking and testing themselves to amusingly modest limits.

General release from Fri 18 Sep.

A Walk in the Woods

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 44min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ken Kwapis
  • Written by: Michael Arndt (screenplay), Bill Bryson (memoir)
  • Cast: Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal, Nick Nolte

When author Bill Bryson (Redford) decides to hike the over 2000-mile Appalachian Trail, concerned wife Catherine (Thompson) only agrees to let him go if he takes a companion: cue his old schoolmate Stephen Katz (Nolte), a fat, creaky, unhealthily florid slob. Amiable comic adventure, not eventful enough to be…