Friday, September 4, 2015

A Walk In the Woods


This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

I read Bill Bryson's A Walk In the Woods right after I read Cheryl Strayed's Wild, and it was the perfect counterpoint: fewer dying moms, more funny moments communing with nature. It's such a funny book it seems like it would be a pretty easy job to translate to the screen, which is something star Robert Redford has been trying to do for about 10 years, originally hoping to team up with his best loved co-star Paul Newman.

Obviously, that didn't pan out. Instead we have Redford paired with Nick Nolte in a movie that is supposed to be a comedy, but fails completely and utterly to be funny.

Maybe the first problem is that the Bryson who originally attempted to walk the over 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail was a middle-aged guy in his 40's. Redford and Nolte are in their 70's. Even if they're supposed to be, say, 15 years younger in the movie (ha, nice try, if so), it still changes the tone from "This idea is folly! You aren't in your 20's anymore you know," to "Oh god you're both gonna die." Pratfalls lose their comedic edge when all you can think about is broken hips.

I'll grant that in some ways the casting of Nick Nolte as Katz seems perfect; I can think of few actors who you can take one look at and instantly think: This guy is in no condition to walk across the street let alone two thousand miles. The problem is, it's uncomfortable to watch. Nolte's face is perpetually crimson; he doesn't walk, he stumbles; and his gravelly voice has gotten so rough that at times it's impossible to understand what he's saying. It's like watching a heart attack personified.

Both Redford and Nolte have been in comedies — some good ones! — before. But they have no comedic chemistry at all, and throughout the film, they come off like actors who have zero understanding of comedic timing. Perhaps this is the fault of the director Ken Kwapis, or screenwriters Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman. All I know is two hours of Redford just sitting on screen reading the book out loud would yield more laughs than this movie does.

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