Robert Redford and Nick Nolte are acting giants, with about century of experience between them and plenty of beloved films to their collective names.
Watching the old pros share screen time is an inherently pleasurable experience, if you can put aside worries about Nolte’s increasingly scratchy voice.
Even still, “A Walk in the Woods,” in which the actors play estranged friends reunited for a hike of the Appalachian Trail, proves a significant endurance test. The film is based on the travel book by Bill Bryson.
This is the third of the recent pictures about extended nature walks and it lacks even one-tenth of the drama in the Mia Wasikowska vehicle “Tracks,” which involved a march across the Australian desert, or “Wild,” in which Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl Strayed tries to heal herself on a solitary journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Those movies evoked fully-realized internal lives that contextualized each character’s voluntary participation in these endurance tests. This one, directed by commercial Hollywood veteran Ken Kwapis (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”), strips the situation of its gravitas by transforming it into fodder for substandard sitcom-level buddy comedy fodder.
Bill Bryson (Redford) and Stephen Katz (Nolte) have quasi-humorous adventures along the path, including a run-in with fellow traveler Mary Ellen (the great Kristen Schaal, doing what she does) and there’s just enough time made for inane philosophizing.
Redford is his usual golden boy self and Nolte clearly relishes playing a lovable buffoon. Their constant presence is the saving grace here, retaining a level of interest in a screenplay that practically reverberates with sleepiness.
This is a fixed game, though, because the movie is boilerplate down to its essence.
Of course, it’s not a surprise that a film titled “A Walk in the Woods” is less than scintillating. That’s not too far off from “A Stroll on the Beach” or “A Journey Into the Subway,” in the realm of common everyday experiences.