What would Lawrence Kasdan have done with A Walk in the Woods? The question asks itself when you find regular accomplices of the Big Chill director in the credits of Ken Kwapis' feeble adaptation of Bill Bryson's loose memoir of pensioner-age-crisis: DP John Bailey and, especially, film editor Carol Littleton. It's a question made even more valid because the film's theme - two men working through "where did our lives go" together - is something Mr. Kasdan spent most of his career, with much more flair than Mr. Kwapis manages to apply here.
In all honesty, the biggest surprise is why star and producer Robert Redford did not helm himself this passion project whose right he optioned years ago - allegedly with a mind to star in it alongside Paul Newman, something that makes a lot of sense at a climactic scene later in the movie - and settled instead for an unassuming minor-league director-for-hire. Whatever the reason, A Walk in the Woods is the film we have, and I'm sorry to say it's not as much of a film as it could have been.
Mr. Bryson's tale of two geriatric old friends attempting one last hurrah, hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail, is played too much for laughs as a "naughty silly grandpas"/Grumpy Old Men heartwarming film, with little interest in the autumnal poignancy the plot and the casting of Mr. Redford and a grizzled Nick Nolte all but screams for. Even the attempts at showing off the beauty and grandeur of the natural landscapes traversed by Bryson and Katz come off as clumsy and clichéd; it's not inappropriate that the outdoors is secondary - the two friends aren't so much travelling the woods as they are travelling within themselves - but it's striking that it's shot so nonchalantly. And though Messrs. Redford and Nolte' easy-going professionalism and occasional leap are reasons enough to sit through A Walk in the Woods, it's almost criminal to have talents such as Mary Steenburgen and Emma Thompson on hand to give them absolutely nothing to do. A Walk in the Woods could have gone all the way, but doesn't really go anywhere; where's Mr. Kasdan when you need him?
A WALK IN THE WOODS
US, South Korea, 2015, 104 minutes
Starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen, Emma Thompson
Directed by Ken Kwapis; screenplay by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, based on the book A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson; cinematography John Bailey (widescreen); composer Nathan Larson; production designer Gae S. Buckley; costume designer Leigh Leverett; editors Carol Littleton and Julie Garcés; produced by Mr. Redford, Mr. Holderman and Chip Diggins, for Route One Films and Wildwood Enterprises in association with Union Investment Partners, Surefire Entertainment Capital and IM Global
Screened October 6th 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon, distributor press screening