Red­ford on a trail in tame, con­ge­nial com­edy

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in New York

The lure of the wild has re­cently at­tracted an in­ter­est­ing batch of soli­tude seek­ers: Reese Wither­spoon ( Wild), Mi­aWasikowska ( Tracks) and Robert Red­ford, twice.

Two years af­ter All Is Lost, Red­ford has swapped the sea for the woods, and word­less iso­la­tion for Nick Nolte. It’s not a bad trade.

A Walk in the Woods is a broad and con­ge­nial com­edy about two aged old friends try­ing to hike all 3,200-plus kilo­me­ters of the Ap­palachian Trail, from Ge­or­gia to Maine. It’s light on its feet, even though its geri­atric woods­men are plod­ding and grunt­ing.

The story, taken from Bill Bryson’s 1998 book, might seem like the kind of hokey com­edy trot­ted out ev­ery now and then for older movie­go­ers. It is that, to be sure. But Red­ford and Nolte are a class, or two, above the stan­dard stars of such fare. While A Walk in the Woods is tame stuff, in­deed, a sim­ple, comic stroll with pleas­ant com­pany is a de­cent way to end a movie sum­mer where the usual pace is a Tom Cruise sprint.

Red­ford has been try­ing to adapt Bryson’s book for 10 years, and he’s now older than the au­thor was when he made his trip, along with his pal Stephen Katz (Nolte). It makes their en­deavor, par­tic­u­larly on the part of the wheez­ingNolte, a lit­tle in­cred­i­ble.

Nolte’s Katz, a for­mer al­co­holic and proud phi­lan­derer, was never an ideal hik­ing com­pan­ion; he’s the only one Bryson could get to go with him. But Nolte, 74, and so croaky he can be hard to un­der­stand, is now more con­vinc­ing as a griz­zly bear than a camper. This, thank­fully, is not a movie where the ac­tors are weigh­ing down their back­packs for the sake of re­al­ism.

The germ for the trip be­gins when Bryson re­turns to his New Hamp­shire home af­ter a hum­bling book tour where he’s met with ques­tions of re­tire­ment — likely the same kind Red­ford has be­come ac­cus­tom to field­ing but hap­pily (for our sake) ig­nor­ing. Au­thors, Bryson re­sponds, don’t re­tire. They ei­ther drink them­selves away or blow their brains out.

But Bryson is in­stead drawn by a mys­te­ri­ous long­ing to hike the Ap­palachian Trail. His con­cerned wife (Emma Thompson) in­sists he find a com­pan­ion. When ev­ery­one he can think of turns him down, Katz, with whom Bryson had lost touch, calls him up to say he’s game.

Af­ter the two set out in Ge­or­gia, their ad­ven­tures un­fold in episodic en­coun­ters and prat­falls. Along the way, they meet Kris­ten Schaal (as an an­noy­ing fel­low hiker), an at­trac­tive innkeeper (Mary Steen­bur­gen) and, in­evitably, a bear.

But whereas Wild sought re­demp­tion across the coun­try on the Pa­cific Crest Trail, pro­fun­dity isn’t the pur­suit of Bryson, Katz andAWalk in the Woods.

Di­rec­tor Ken Kwapis ( Big Mir­a­cle), work­ing from the script by Rick Kerb and Bill Hol­d­er­man, steers it on well­trod but pleas­ant buddy-com­edy paths that of­fers few sur­prises other than the undi­min­ished ap­peal of its am­bling stars.

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