Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Walk in the Woods (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Walk in the Woods

Unflappably light, breezy and amusing although with some cringing moments, Ken Kwapis's "A Walk in The Woods" comes though like a conservation-themed version of "Wild Hogs."

The seasoned actors Robert Redford and Nick Nolte do have magnetism, but the story loses its tread about halfway down the path.

Redford plays real life author Bill Bryson, who wrote the book on which this film is based. Bryson, a successful writer by any standards, feels claustrophobic in his suburban New Hampshire existence. After appearing on a horribly shallow talk show and going to a funeral, he goes for a short walk and is struck by the simplicity of nature.

Bryson has an epiphany: why not hike the Appalachian Trail? His wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) is strongly against it but Bryson makes plans anyway. Having no candidates for a partner, he contacts Stephen Katz (Nolte), his old traveling buddy, who flies to meet him. Bryson is shocked; Katz is flushed, trembling wheezy, overweight and grossly unprepared for the hike.

The large and sputtering Katz regales the Bryson family with crude tales of young Bryson's flirtations, much to Catherine's discomfort at the family table.

Needless to say, the odd pair walk off and hit the trail with Bryson appropriately attired while Katz looks like an unmade bed, and into the path they go.

Nolte and Redford have good chemistry. There are some humorous one-liners to be counted on as numerous pitfalls befall them. But beyond that, nothing much of interest takes place. There is scarcely little mystery or wonder as one might reasonably expect from two old friends encountering such a voyage. Instead, Bryson and Katz, do a lot of joking about women and age, with Katz huffing and puffing like a big red wolf to the point where it makes one unsettled and nervous. More sillily, there are some falls on cliff edges that appear right out of "The Three Stooges."

There is a cliche bear scene which feels like a spoof rather than something insightful, given such awesome creatures.

In dialogue, however, Nolte's sandpaper-thrush voice gives a jolt to what is a stereotypical role and his deadpan humor is right on point, which balances Redford's spacey sarcasm.

There would have been more than enough material for a solid comedy and a story of a friendship. Instead, the film goes for quick slapstick with Katz tumbling out a window, running from a homicidal husband, falling from bunk beds and collapsing into streams.

One appearance with comic energy was Kristen Schaal as an annoying rapid talker who invariably points out the negative in the two men. There is a good moment also as the two become marooned in a trench; they gaze at the stars and realistically converse. More often than not however, the film is filled with episodes involving camps and inns, and quasi-kooky people full of quick escapes and sweaty faces.

Not much of it, sadly, has anything to do with the magic of the trail or how the two really feel about each other, beyond the exchange of "Bryson, remember the time.."

On the plus side, the cinematography by John Bailey shows the Appalachian Trail in all of its verdant gorgeousness and the music by Nathan Larson offers some earthy blues that complement a landscape of rusty greens.

A Walk in the Woods" is an idyll rather than a trek, with most of the richness brought to the surface by Redford and Nolte's off-hand humor. What could have been fertile in friendship is undermined in a feverishly incidental and all too physical tone.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

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