In his hugely popular 1998 book A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson chronicled his attempt to hike the full length of the Appalachian Trail accompanied by an overweight, recovering-alcoholic pal whom he calls Stephen Katz. The two don't make it all the way; they barely make it part of the way. But then, it's the journey, not the destination, that matters, and Bryson's half-jaunty, half-jaundiced observations about communing with nature -- and, by extension, oneself -- make the book.
Now, after ten years of development, A Walk in the Woods finally strides out like an awakened bear, blinking in the sunlight: Directed by Ken Kwapis, it has charming, lively moments, but also many that just feel tired and listless, as if the filmmakers were working off a checklist of all the things two well-past-middle-age travelers would say and do while trekking through the wilderness.
The past-middle-age part is key: Bryson was in his mid forties when he set off on his mini adventure. Redford himself is an astonishing-looking 79; his co-star Nick Nolte -- playing the wheezing ne'er-do-well Katz, an old friend of Bryson's from his hometown of Des Moines -- is 74. Yet age is barely an issue in A Walk in the Woods, except as an excuse for a cavalcade of jokes about all the things older men can't do that younger men take for granted. Redford's intent might be to portray this escapade as a journey of enlightenment, not a laundry list of aches and pains, but the subtext is that men can do anything, even when ancient.