‘A Walk in the Woods’: Screen greats hike from one dumb gag to the next

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After all these years, iconic former golden boys Robert Redford and Nick Nolte share the big screen — and they’re stuck in a middling sitcom.

Nolte had a small part in the Redford-directed “The Company You Keep” (2012), but in their combined 100 years of acting, the two had never worked onscreen together until this amiable, lightweight and thoroughly predictable buddy movie, directed by Ken Kwapis and adapted by Rick Kerb and William Holderman from the terrific non-fiction bestseller by Bill Bryson.

Redford, who looks great at 77, plays Bryson, an esteemed, successful and beloved travel writer who is at that point in his career where he’s promoting an anthology of his greatest works, and his daily adventures include bantering with Catherine (Emma Thompson), his loving wife of many decades, playing with the grandchildren and spending a little time at his laptop in an office filled with citations and awards and photographs of his greatest triumphs.

After attending the funeral of a friend, Bryson goes on a short walk — and has an epiphany. He’ll walk the 2,118-mile Appalachian Trail, which routinely spits out experienced hikers half his age. It’ll be a metaphor for the long and winding road that has been his life, and what one does when one reaches the final crossroads, and all that good stuff!

Fretting wife Catherine insists Bryson find a friend to accompany him, in case he has a coronary or a bear attacks him or some such thing. None of Bryson’s close friends want anything to do with this potentially multi-month excursion, because they’re, well, sane.

Then comes a call from Bryson’s long-ago partner in travels, Katz, and I love Nick Nolte, but we know we’re in trouble when Nolte is overacting his irascible old coot OVER THE TELEPHONE.

Once Katz shows up, our worst fears are confirmed. He’s an enormous disaster — at least 100 pounds overweight, limping, sporting unkempt and ratty hair, gobbling junk food and spitting out salty one-liners every step of the way.

Bryson was in his 40s when he took his Walk in the Woods. Redford and Nolte (who’s 74) are playing characters about 30 years older than that, and the screenplay never misses an opportunity for easy one-liners about old age, and numerous slapstick sight gags featuring the Grumpy Old Men stumbling and flailing about. By the time Redford gets on Nolte’s shoulders during a prolonged and painfully unfunny sequence in which they’re stranded on a mountainside, all hope for anything insightful and poignant is lost.

Mary Steenburgen has an odd little part as a the manager of a motel who keeps looking Bryson up and down and all but purring at him. (It’s not all that different from Steenburgen’s role in the geriatric comedy “Last Vegas.”) Kristen Schaal plays essentially the same character she plays on the TV series “The Last Man on Earth,” a perpetually upbeat and incredibly annoying chatterbox who makes you want to run as fast as you can in the other direction. Nick Offerman has the Nick Offerman role as the sporting goods salesman who takes one look at Bryson and leads him to the most expensive but not necessarily the most practical equipment.

This is the kind of road movie where someone says a storm is coming, and our heroes look at the bright blue sky and scoff at that report — and we quickly cut to the two of them scrambling to take cover from a crazy storm. Wacky!

Every once in a while, there’s a nice, quiet moment, e.g., when Katz tells Bryson about his alcoholism, or when Bryson sheepishly but proudly tells Katz he’s never strayed from his wife, not once, in all these years.

But then the two weary road warriors are hobbling along the trial, bickering and literally stepping in it once again.

[s3r star=2/4]

Broad Green Pictures presents a film directed by Ken Kwapis and written by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, based on the book by Bill Bryson. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated R (for language and some sexual references). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.

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