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Movie Review

There's nothing like a nice walk to clear your head a little. But 2,000 miles? Might be overdoing it a touch.

Bill Bryson doesn't think so, though. The celebrated author has a lot on his mind, after all.

He's written lots of popular books, but the media grind is getting to him. His contemporaries are starting to die off. Sure, he's had a pretty fantastic, fulfilling life … but he's not ready to put a bow on it just yet. Bryson has a few more miles left in him, and the Appalachian Trail—all 2,180 miles and 14 states of it—seems just the ticket.

There are a few hurdles to clear. "You haven't hiked in 30 years," his wife, Catherine, reminds him. "Isn't this something you could do in the Volvo?" He's got to buy reams of newfangled camping equipment, too. Oh, and he has to find somebody he can walk with—and frankly, most of his friends would rather juggle live hedgehogs than spend who knows how many months hiking around who knows where just so Bryson can find whatever's left of himself. Only Stephen Katz, one of Bryson's oldest and most annoying friends, volunteers to go—even though Bryson didn't actually invite him.

"Didn't you end up getting on each other's nerves?" Catherine asks gently.

"We started out on each other's nerves," Bryson corrects. "We ended up despising each other."

Katz was a drunken, womanizing careening wreck of a man well on his way to a felony when Bryson best knew him, and he's not changed much since. If Bryson's looking to outrun time, Katz is looking to outrun a couple of outstanding warrants. Not that either can run very fast.

Still, the two fly down to Georgia to start their multi-season trek through America's great hills and forests. It's a brutal experience testing both body and soul: the lung-busting inclines, the unpredictable weather, the eerie loneliness, the step after step after endless step.

But, hey, the first mile's the hardest, right? Just 2,179 to go.

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Positive Elements

Bryson and Katz may not be much alike, but they do (finally) find things to like about each other. Bryson knows he could use a little of Katz's spontaneity. Katz respects what Bryson has done with his life. And even though Katz at first has little use for Bryson's long-winded nature lectures and Bryson's embarrassed by Katz's wild stories, each grows to appreciate and value the other's perspective. "You know, Bryson," Katz finally tells him, "You're the only guy I'd risk my life with."

They surprise each other with some admirable maturity, too. Judging by Katz's stories, you get the feeling Bryson was something of a randy ladies' man back in the day. And when Bryson insists he's been faithful to Catherine for the decades they've been married, Katz is skeptical at first. But it's true: Not even the longing eyes of a pretty hotel proprietor can entice Bryson away from his vows. Katz, meanwhile, is a recovering alcoholic: He hasn't had a drop to drink in years. And when Bryson has reason to doubt him, Katz proves his commitment to sobriety.

Spiritual Content

Bryson and Catherine attend a funeral at a church.

Sexual Content

Katz meets and flirts with a woman at a Laundromat. He's wearing only what looks to be a plastic poncho (while the rest of his clothes are being washed), and the two trade winks and nods about her shredded panties (caught in the machine). He later tells Bryson he plans to meet her again since he's feeling a "stiffening of the old resolve." But then her husband "interferes," prompting Katz to marvel that the two people in the world who would actually sleep with the quite overweight woman are both in the same town. Katz tells Bryson his criteria for a woman is that she has "a heartbeat and a full set of limbs." Bryson immediately quips that while most people's standards go down as they get older, Katz's actually went up.

Bryson, meanwhile, strikes up a conversation with a hotel propriettress named Jeannie. He goes to the office in his bathrobe and asks for towels, and the two spend a great deal of time talking, and perhaps flirting a bit. It's clear there's an attraction there, but Bryson has no interest in cheating on his wife: He calls her and leaves messages, telling her he loves her. He tells Katz about how wonderful all her strange little habits are. And when the two are reunited, both are clearly thrilled. Not that Bryson's monogamy impresses Katz. "That can't be good for you," he says.

Bryson and Katz clearly did their share of carousing when they were younger. There are allusions to sexual escapades, oral sex, female body parts and brushes with venereal diseases.

Violent Content

The hubby of the laundry lady Katz has a crush on seems intent on either hurting or killing the guy. In an effort to dissuade Bryson from taking the trip, Catherine shows him a variety of fearsome and grotesque stories from the Appalachian Trail—about bear attacks, frozen corpses and murder. Bryson and Katz do stumble and fall a couple of times, getting soaked in a stream the first time, tumbling from the trail and getting stuck on a ledge the second. There's a half-joking reference to suicide.

Crude or Profane Language

At least a baker's dozen of f-words. Nearly 20 s-words. The field of other profanities that sprouts along the trail includes "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard," "h---" and "p---ies"). God's name is misused at least 15 times, most often with "d--n." Jesus' name is abused nearly that many times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

As mentioned, Katz says he's given up alcohol, and his abstinence surprises Bryson when they order drinks at a restaurant. When hearing that Katz is going to have a Coke, Bryson amends his own order for the "tallest, coldest beer on the menu" to a Coke, too. But Bryson begins to doubt his friend when he discovers a bottle of whiskey in Katz's backpack.

The two stop on a ledge, with hills and valleys full of trees stretching out as far as the eye can see. "I love to drink," Katz admits. "I love everything about it." But he knows he can't ever stop with just one. He has been sober, Katz insists. The bottle—unopened—is for him both a symbol that he can stay dry … and a crutch in case he can't. And with that, he asks Bryson to open it. Bryson does and hands the whiskey to Katz, who smells it, smiles, and pours it out on the rock. "That was a nice moment," he says, then quickly adds that he's already regretting dumping it out. (Interestingly, in the book this movie is based on, Katz does indeed fall off the wagon. Not so onscreen.)

Other Negative Elements

There are several references to burying one's own organic refuse. (We see special shovels designed to dig small holes for the purpose.) Katz and Bryson shake off another annoying hiker.

Conclusion

I've always been drawn to the idea of long walks. Not enough to do one, mind you, but I've always felt there's a spiritual element to walking and hiking—to glory in God's creation while allowing a few more of our petty, manmade cares to sluff off our shoulders with each step. Nature can even feel like church sometimes, with birds supplying the worship music and lichen padding the pews.

This movie, on the other hand, is not very much like church at all. Because as primed as I am to like movies like A Walk in the Woods—as much as it might make me want to take a couple of months off to hike through the mountains of Colorado—there's more to movies than just vibe. (Or even having fun laughing at Robert Redford trying to make you laugh.)

Despite some of the light one-liners and nice messages about friends and family, there are also quite a few content concerns here. You know, like the foul language Redford and Nolte toss back and forth. And the sexual allusions, too. Those things aren't worth walking very far for—even if it's just across the multiplex parking lot.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

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