By Liz Lopez
A Walk in the Woods, based on the best-selling book by Bill Bryson, is anything but a walk and it is not just in the woods. Travel writer Bill Bryson (portrayed by Academy Award winner Robert Redford) is at retirement age, but the “r” word is not in his vocabulary yet. Instead of proceeding to a quiet life in the northeastern U.S. after living abroad; he is adamant about hiking the extensive Appalachian Trail. It sounds like as easy feat while you are standing in your neighborhood in excellent weather. Bill’s wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) is frankly opposed and when there is no stopping him, she expects him to have a buddy on this adventure of a lifetime and absolutely no one he invites will go. The real story begins when a long-lost former friend from Iowa, Stephen Katz (Academy Award nominee Nick Nolte) surfaces like a blast from the past and volunteers for the trek. It pains me to say that as much as I really like all the veteran actors in the film, I like the film, but it does not excite me.
I totally understand why Redford is interested in the project as both a star and producer of the script, started by Michael Arndt, and credited to Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman under the direction of Ken Kwapis. The script is just a tad too predictable for my taste, so the comedy I anticipated was not there with one exception. Kristen Schaal’s performance as Mary Ellen is superb. She is a hiker on the trail who is a non-stop talking know it all loud mouth. She is like a fly that won’t go away while you are at a picnic. Those scenes are hilarious and seeing Bryson and Katz hatch a plan to ditch her is worth the price of admission just when you might think you made a mistake in choosing this film.
The cinematography by John Bailey is gorgeous, especially for all the panoramic scenes, including the one when the travel buddies slide down and land on a ledge.
This comedy adventure also stars Nick Offerman in a small scene as REI Dave who sells the equipment to Bryson and Mary Steenburgen as Jeannie, a motel proprietress who appears to be very drawn to Bryson, but neither move past admiring glances. Katz on the other hand is quite the hound dog. Although I do not like some of the statements the Katz character mouthed off, they are very effective in showing the viewer how crude this character is and has been all his life – not at all polished and successful as Bryson.
A Walk in the Woods is in theaters now and is rated R.