I remember that prideful day when my pedometer confirmed my first 10-mile walk. It was the cumulative steps back and forth to the buffet carving station, but, hey, it counts.
That pretty much sums-up Nick Nolte’s bona fides in his and Robert Redford’s trek across the 2,000-plus mile Appalachian Trail.
“I have to eat every hour or I get seizures,” Nolte casually mentions sometime between explaining why there are no bears within 1,500 miles of his Des Moines home (“Those effers are afraid of me!”) and determining at the perfect time to present a pair of replacement bloomers to Beulah, whom he met in a laundromat along the trail (“I’m going to spring them on her over dinner!”).
Nolte, who seems out of breath just talking, is the perfect foil to Redford’s highly-organized, appreciate-every-vista, retired travel writer. I am torn between classifying him as either the last person I would want on such a trek or, “hell yeah, he would be a laugh a minute.” The latter he is, here anyway, in this big screen adaptation of the best-seller from humor/travel writer and Iowa-native Bill Bryson, whom Redford plays.
Bryson is having a personal crisis and feels compelled to do something significant. He settles on the Appalachian Trail, a portion of which adjoins his home in New England, where at the time he lived after having eschewed his Midwest roots. He floats invitations to several old friends but only Stephen Katz (Nolte) responds. Katz was not himself invited — the two lost touch years ago — but heard of the trip through another friend and guilts Bryson into teaming with him.
Along the way, they encounter quirky hikers and make requisite personal insights but mostly this one is solid and balanced laughs. Not a minute passed that I wasn’t at least chortling. And though it skews towards older audiences, the humor is genuine and original and avoids trite Donner Party references or spastic colon gags.
If you could imagine a Venn diagram intersection (somewhere Mrs. Bubarczek, my fifth grade math teacher, is rocking a smile of vindication) of “The Bucket List” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” you would have the essence of “A Walk in the Woods.”
Oscar-winner Redford, 79, the so-called Godfather of Indie Film, hasn’t done comedy, yet is at home here even if he seems to occasionally labor at it. For Nolte, 74, whose roots are equally deep in drama, it’s a cakewalk.
Mary Steenburgen and Emma Thompson co-star.
Walks on the wild side
Not since Lewis and Clark mapped all of the Wi-Fi hotspots between St. Louis and the mouth of the Columbia River … uhm … I’m not sure where I was going with that. Anyway, here’re a few of my favorite cinematic treks. Happy trails.
Based on the memoir of Chaska, Minn., writer Cheryl Strayed, who hiked more than 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail between the borders of Mexico and Canada in equal parts penance, healing and ablution after her mother’s death sent her into a downward spiral. Award-caliber performance by Reese Witherspoon.
“Shoot to Kill” (1988)
It’s possible that the only people who even know about this film are Sidney Poitier, Kirstie Alley, Tom Berenger and me. Guiding hikers through Washington State, Alley is forced to lead a killer among her flock to Canada while her boyfriend (Berenger) and an FBI agent (Poitier) pursue them.
“127 Hours” (2010)
The true story of extreme hiker Aron Ralston who survived for five days with his arm pinned by a heavy boulder after falling into a fissure. James Franco capably carries the film and his adrenalin junkie deservedly garnered the actor an Oscar nom. From “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle.
Based on the best-seller of the same title that chronicles the 10-week survival of a rugby team whose plane crashed high in the Andes Mountains. When the stash of in-flight peanuts run out they resort to, well, you know … and when it becomes clear they’re on their own, they assemble a small expedition who hike for 12 days through the snowy and rugged terrain for aid. Not as riveting as the book, but worth seeing.