MOVIE REVIEW: ‘A Walk In The Woods’ Is Light On Story

a-walk-in-the-woods-review

Film: A Walk In The Woods
Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte
Directed by: Ken Kwapis

The fear of death meets the fear of dying alone on an underwhelming, but funny hike on the Appalachian trail in A Walk In The Woods.

Robert Redford is travel writer Bill Bryson, an aging married man who is afraid to admit he still fears death. His friends have begun to pass on, and every time it makes Bryson feel uncomfortable in his own skin. He yearns to feel alive like he did in his youth, to adventure without worrying about the aches and pains that are now a part of every day life. His wife doesn’t understand this desire, but it may be due to the fact Bryson isn’t the best at sharing his emotions. Like many a stereotypical baby boomer male, he prefers action over conversation, which leads him to attempt hiking the Appalachian trail.

The only person Bryson can get to join him on his trek is Katz (Nick Nolte), an old friend who is more than a little out of shape. The pair spent their childhood together, and at one point as young men they traveled to Europe for a summer of debauchery, but those memories are now decades old. Both Bryson and Katz have lived lives the other knows very little about, but recognizing they may never have an opportunity to attempt such a ridiculous adventure again they throw caution to the wind and begin their journey.

It doesn’t take long for A Walk In The Woods to begin falling back on ancient genre tropes that audiences have seen time and time again. Think of basically any road trip or travel movie featuring a mismatched pair and you’ve likely already seen many, if not all of the beats found in this film. The only twist is that Redford and Nolte are old, which gives the the various supporting characters they encounter an easy target for quick comedic jabs and quips that rarely illicit more than a light chuckle from the viewer. There’s also Katz’s weight, which goes from being something made light of once or twice early on, to a tired gag long before the credits begin to roll.

The hit-and-miss humor would be entirely forgivable if A Walk In The Woods provided a compelling story or explored the deep-seeded fear of aging found within each of the protagonists, but the film doesn’t do either in any notable way. There is no midway twist or third act breakdown where the things left unsaid are finally brought into the light. My guess is that filmmaker Ken Kwapis believed the actions of the story could speak for themselves, but having been riddled with bottom-of-the-barrel yucks, whatever heart existed in the script was lost in production. The camaraderie between Redford and Nolte is really the only thing that keeps you engaged, and fortunately their bond feels real enough to keep you feeling more or less entertained for the majority of the film.

There are some strong supporting turns from Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen, as well as an all-too-short series of appearances from Emma Thompson. No one brings anything to the table that will be remembered for years to come, but their characters each have wonderfully odd quirks that make them great in the moment.

A Walk In The Woods could have been something special, but instead the film settles for being a fun but forgettable buddy comedy that is far too light on emotion. Redford and Nolte deliver strong turns as men who clearly have a lot on their minds, but the story never provides an ample opportunity to dig any deeper than surface level feelings. With less gags and more conversation the results would likely fare better, but I’m sure many will still enjoy the ride. Just leave your expectations at the door.

GRADE: C+

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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