I love nature. My maternal grandpa was a Boy Scout leader and Mom and her siblings grew up hiking and camping. Dad, on the other hand, had never done so. Before Mom and Dad married, Grandpa made sure that Dad’s outdoor education began with a weekend hiking trip to Mount Ranier. Dad still talks about it and how out of his element he felt, especially next to Grandpa. But he learned and my siblings and I were lucky to grow up with lots of camping and hiking during the summers.
So, when I saw the trailer for A Walk in the Woods, my inner-outdoors woman got really excited. These people-in-nature films usually held some lesson to be learned through the protagonists communing with the great outdoors. Alas, even the great Robert Redford could not save A Walk in the Woods from being as shallow as the water in my kitchen sink.
Redford is Bill Bryson, a retired travel writer who is confronted with his own mortality while attending a friend’s funeral. Much to the chagrin of his wife, Catherine (Emma Thompson), Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail. He doesn’t say why but just feels that it’s something he needs to do, or at least attempt. After reading of a bunch of news stories about accidents and killings on the trail, Catherine insists that he not go alone. Bryson calls all his friends but nobody is able or willing to join him on his zany adventure. Then comes the call from perpetually foul-mouthed Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), with whom Bryson had a falling out years ago. With no one else willing to make the trip, Bryson accepts Katz’s offer to accompany him.
All the funny gags that could happen to two old codgers, one of whom is in no physical condition to hike the Trail, happen. They escape from Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal), a motor-mouthed hiker who joins their camp one night. They fall into a creek. On a motel stop-over, Katz meets a woman in the coin-op laundry and buys her underwear, only to be chased away the next day by her irate husband. Even happily married Bryson, flirts with a hotel owner (Mary Steenburgen).
I waited and waited for the touching moment. You know, the one where Bryson and Katz would talk about things deeper than themselves, marveling at being so small against the backdrop of the mountains. It never came. Oh, Katz berates Bryson for being faithful to his wife at the same time admitting to his battle against alcohol, even as he sneaks a bottle into his pack.
Profound is definitely not a word that can be associated with A Walk in the Woods. Redford had hoped to do this film with Paul Newman, but he died in 2008. Raspy-voiced Nick Nolte has little of Newman’s charisma. Maybe Butch and Sundance could have pulled it off but we’ll never know.