Robert Redford, who deserved an Oscar nomination for his full-bodied performance in J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, has been tromping around the Great Outdoors for six decades now. Redford was convincing as a hotshot skier in Michael Ritchie’s Downhill Racer, convincing as a mountain man in Sydney Pollack’s Jeremiah Johnson, and he’s convincing as a travel writer in A Walk in the Woods, Ken Kwapis’s adaptation of Bill Bryson’s 1998 bestseller.
Similarly, Reese Witherspoon was convincing as Cheryl Strayed in Wild, Jean-Marc Vallée’s version of the author’s 2012 memoir, but that’s where the comparisons end. For those who found the Vallée film too intense, too youthful, and too female, Kwapis has switched out the drama for comedy, the Pacific Crest Trail for the Appalachian Trail, and the 26-year-old woman for a couple of old coots (middle-aged men in the book).
When Bryson’s wife (Emma Thompson) suggests he find a hiking companion, he settles on the alcoholic, out-of-shape Stephen Katz (a rougher-than-rough Nick Nolte), an estranged college buddy, after everyone else declines his offer, but what seems like a promising set-up quickly runs aground with shock-your-granny jokes about crabs, blowjobs, and Katz’s preference for plus-size ladies. It’s enough to make those Grumpy Old Men movies seem like masterworks of grace and subtlety.