14 September, 2015

#GAfilm Review: "A Walk in the Woods" (**½)

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star in "A Walk in the Woods." 

With Academy Award-winner Robert Redford and Academy Award-nominee Nick Nolte set to conquer an adventurous hike together along the Appalachian Trail, I thought I had another "Wild" on my hands. To my dismay, the Georgia film (and 1998 bestselling book adaptation) "A Walk in the Woods" turned out to be about as exciting as the title suggests. The film begins with energy and potential but quickly loses its footing early on, ultimately resulting in a rather bland and uneventful journey with little substance.

After attending a friend's funeral, travel writer Bill Bryson (Redford) is inspired to hike the Appalachian Trail as a sort of 'final adventure.' His wife, played by the always wonderful Emma Thompson, objects but later gives in on the condition that he does not make the journey alone. Bryson fails to secure a hiking partner until he receives a sudden phone call from his former travel companion Stephen Katz (Nolte) with whom he had a falling out decades before. Nonetheless, the pair travel to Georgia's Amicalola Falls (where the majority of the film was shot) to begin their 2,168 mile hike.

Director Ken Kwapis, known more for directing television sitcoms ("The Office") and romantic comedies ("License to Wed," "He's Just Not That Into You"), seems out of his element with this film. He fails to take advantage of the natural landscape on which the story is based, mainly relying on the occasional aerial shot of northern Georgia mountains to integrate the scenic background. Kwapis also dwells on the inexperience and old age of the two male leads for comedic effect (they are consistently shown to be outpaced by younger, fitter counterparts) rather than capitalize on the opportunity for the men to reflect on this time in their lives. Although the driving force of the film is Bryson and Katz's friendship (or rather the rekindling of it), their relationship lacks any real drama and the film rarely deviates from the cheesy and predictable situations they get into with one another.

Emma Thompson and Robert Redford in "A Walk in the Woods."

"A Walk in the Woods" is very much Redford's film. He bought the movie rights back in 2005 and executive produced the film. Unfortunately there is not much depth or excitement to his character, and his steady humor is consistently drowned out by the occasional (and unnecessary) nature fact he spews out along his journey. In a role originally intended for Redford's longtime co-star and friend (the late Paul Newman), Nick Nolte is somewhat entertaining as the stumbling, crass-humored counterpart; yet his raspy, gruff sounding voice is often times hard to understand. Supporting actors (Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen) are all great in their respective roles, but are given little to work with in their limited screen time.

With a strong cast and beautiful filming locations, "A Walk in the Woods" is a missed opportunity. If only there was more dramatic substance (and more Emma Thompson) and less corny comedic flair, it just might have been worth accompanying Redford and Nolte on their walk in the woods.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

"A Walk in the Woods" premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It is currently playing in theaters. 

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