OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: Erik likes both hiking and Robert Redford so goddamn much that A Walk in the Woods probably would've had to be some kind of puppy-strangling snuff film for him to give it a bad review.
Absolutely zero puppies get strangled in A Walk in the Woods, which definitely isn't a snuff film! It's a hiking movie starring Robert Redford, which means it's great.
In fact, as far as the hiking-movies-starring-Robert Redford genre goes, A Walk in the Woods is definitely the best, probably because it's the first. Based on the book by Bill Bryson—Redford plays Bryson, and Nick Nolte plays Bryson's pal Katz—A Walk in the Woods follows two old dudes as they dodder and wobble along the Appalachian Trail, starting in Georgia and vowing to hike all 2,190 miles to Maine's Mt. Katahdin. Here, Bryson's a fancy-pants, WASP-y travel writer seeking... well, something ("It's just something I feel I have to do," he explains to his moderately naggy wife, played by Emma Thompson), while his long-lost buddy Katz, who may or may not be tagging along in order to avoid some outstanding warrants, is a blue-collar rabble-rouser who's always seeking something a little more specific ("I'm a panty-ologist," he explains to one lucky lady, played by Susan McPhail).
AND THEN THEY'RE OFF—well, no, wait, first there's a horrible scene that doubles as an REI commercial in which Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman plays a salesman, "REI Dave," and we all learn that shitty product placement doesn't get any less shitty when Ron Swanson's doing the shilling. BUT THEN THEY'RE OFF, taking their first steps onto the beautiful Appalachian Trail! The trail's perks include solitude, scenery, and flirty Mary Steenburgens; the trail's dangers include snowstorms, falling off a cliff and dying horribly, and annoying Kristen Schaals. Through it all, Bryson quotes John Muir, gets poetic about igneous rock, and laments the demise of the American chestnut, while Katz, his voice the grumble of a drunken demon, wheezes, huffs, and tries to talk Bryson into renting a car and driving through "the shitty parts." As they make their way through this majestic expanse of ancient America, there's also a glimpse of Nolte's 74-year-old ass and a surprising number of blowjob jokes.
There's also the sense that, had Redford directed A Walk in the Woods instead of TV director Ken Kwapis, he likely would've done a better job capturing the nuance of Bryson's writing, or dug deeper into the stuff that's just under the surface here: the class conflict between Bryson and Katz, the bittersweet sense of growing old, the transformation of America's most sacred places into tourist traps. (Not mentioned is the current controversy around the Appalachian Trail, where trail officials are growing increasingly concerned with both skyrocketing crowds and those crowds' shitty behavior.) A Redford-directed version might've worked as a companion piece, of sorts, to 1992's A River Runs Through It—or even, now that I think about it, 2013's All Is Lost or 1972's Jeremiah Johnson. Kwapis' aims are simpler: A Walk in the Woods is full of pratfalls and sappy music, with a bright airiness in both tone and visuals. In some of the movie's more disconcerting moments, the trail resembles a soundstage more than a forest.
Had it starred anyone but Redford and Nolte, these might be insurmountable problems—but these two guys remain just as watchable, likeable, and funny as they've been for decades. So, okay—despite what I said at the start, maybe A Walk in the Woods isn't great. But as an excuse to hang out with these guys on the Appalachian Trail, it's good enough.