Writer Bill Bryson (Redford) decides to rediscover America by walking the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail with old school friend Katz (Nolte).
Two 70-plus boys trekking the length of the American East Coast ruminating on life! It’s a male Wild! Without flashbacks. Or personal demons. Or sex. Based on a bestselling 1998 memoir of writer/humorist Bill Bryson — snapped up early by Redford as a possible project for him and Paul Newman — this is a gentle, droll charmer that relies on the still considerable presence of its odd couple on the road, with breathtaking scenery and starry, starry nights their backdrops.
Having lived in the UK most of his adult life, Bryson and his family moved back to the US in the ’90s for a spell. In one of those ‘I should do this while I still can’ brainstorms he conceives the idea of hiking the famous Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. His wife (Emma Thompson), aghast, only reluctantly agrees to let him go if someone goes with him. The sole volunteer is uninvited Stephen Katz (a pseudonym by which Bryson immortalised his travel companion in early chronicles of their youthful misadventures across Europe). Katz is an unhealthy alcoholic on the run from something, but Bryson suppresses his misgivings and the two set forth.
Nothing wildly dramatic occurs, which is lucky since director Ken Kwapis is primarily a TV guy safe with characters conversing, nothing tricky. There is slapstick: an encounter with a bear, a snowstorm, a comically disastrous tumble that strands them on a cliff ledge, and the odd flirtatious motel manageress (Mary Steenburgen) or obnoxious fellow hiker to escape. The pleasure is in the sarcastic byplay between coarse, rascally Katz and drily witty, intellectual Bryson, with some musing on the environment, life, death and love. No jeopardy, no redemption, just a pleasant hike huffing and puffing through shared memories and the craving for a last adventure.
This slight, lightly charming comic adventure is most obviously appealing for the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" set though Bryson himself was in his forties when he made his journey.