A funny and entertaining adventure, “A Walk in the Woods” features two legendary actors proving they can still deliver heartfelt, warm and wise performances.
As in real life, they play a pair who always took the road less traveled, and that has resulted in rewarding experiences.
Expertly guided by droll director Ken Kwapis (“He’s Just Not That Into You”), whose sharp comic timing, honed on such TV shows as “The Office” and “The Bernie Mac Show,” is evident. Kwapis grew up in Belleville. He allows the story to unfold in a natural, no-frills way, but moving nonetheless.
Robert Redford, with his intelligence and charisma in abundance, plays travel writer Bill Bryson, who trekked the daunting Appalachian Trail with a friend, at age 44, and wrote a book. The fact this adaptation sets the pair as septuagenarians adds much to the story.
Nick Nolte, now appealing in a different way, plays the salty old coot Katz, an estranged former traveling companion. Weathered, gravelly voiced and dealing with more physical challenges, his outlook and strolls down memory lane provide many laughs.
Bryson’s wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) doesn’t think this idea is a good one, but he is not yet ready to retire, and is having difficulty adjusting to a routine of attending funerals and listening to everyone’s ailments.
And what an adventure it is, with stunning vistas and dangerous pitfalls along this path from Georgia to Maine, but the duo’s determination is a marvel to behold as well.
It’s joyous to see these two esteemed actors working together, and not such an odd coupling after all.
But equally enjoyable is the supporting cast. Emma Thompson, as always, just adds oomph as the fretful spouse. Kristen Schaal (“The Last Man on Earth”) is a hoot as a self-absorbed, abrasive hiker who can’t shut up or stop criticizing the old guys.
Kwapis’ keen eye — and ear — for comedy adds such a pleasant tone. His sweeping shots of the splendid natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains are breathtaking. And with that crackerjack cast, the movie crackles with humor and heart.
What Doesn’t Work
Its appeal might be limited, but the adult audience it’s aiming for craves good stories, and does not need all the contemporary bells and whistles to keep 14-year-olds’ attention.
That said, the material doesn’t pander because the creative team is aware of its aim. Smart and funny works for me every time.
3 1/2 stars out of 4
Director: Ken Kwapis
Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen and Kristen Schaal.
Rated: R for language and some sexual references