No Walk in the Park

This ramble is beneath its older stars

Hollywood’s latest attempt to make randy old people cute unofficially started with Burgess Meredith’s role in the “Grumpy Old Men” series.

So we can now blame Meredith, the grumpiest of old men, for “A Walk in the Woods.”

The new comedy stars Robert Redford as a bored writer who decides to hike the Appalachian Trail with an old chum, played by Nick Nolte. Nolte’s character is a reformed drinker and current skirt chaser, even if he can barely bend down on his own power.

That character was older than the film’s stars — Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. He still carried on like a hormonal teen. Nolte’s role in the new film has more nuance, but not much more. The film is beneath both him and every “Woods” co-star, from Redford to the vibrant Emma Thompson.

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Redford stars as Bill Bryson, a celebrated writer whose life lacks spark of late. So he decides to do something people half his age can’t — hike a 2,000-plus mile trail. He teams up with Katz (Nolte), an old friend who has let himself go physically, and scarfs food from vending machines for an energy burst. That doesn’t stop Katz from wooing strangers in a laundromat or carrying on like a “Porky’s” character.

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It’s a variation on the wacky and/or sexualized seniors we’ve seen plenty of times before. Remember Betty White’s silly shaman-esque dance from 2009’s “The Proposal”? Or the actress’ turn in 1999’s “Lake Placid,” the horror film where she swore like a politician whose affair just got outed on Twitter?

for-adultsThe 1985 smash “Cocoon” focused on three senior citizens whose bodies are revitalized by an alien force. What do they do? Act like teenagers chasing potential prom dates, of course.

Hollywood often struggles with age, particular when it comes to casting decisions. Younger is preferred, leaving older stars to scrap for the remaining parts.

Sometimes the actors themselves try to stay forever young. Consider the “Expendables” action franchise, a haven for seniors like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger who tried to act as if Father Time was just a myth.

Some stars can overcome the industry’s inability to deal with aging actors. Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” let him play a man torn by old prejudices and a sense of decency, giving the icon his best role in ages. Heck, Redford’s own “All Is Lost” from two years ago shows a senior citizen grappling with nature with maturity and insight.

Younger is preferred, leaving older stars to scrap for the remaining parts.

We see glimpses of what seniors really experience in “A Walk in the Woods.” It’s an acknowledgment that our bodies simply can’t do what they once did; there’s the procession of funerals, harsh diagnoses and other age-related woes. And yet, at its best, it shows that two people can accomplish far more than they ever thought they could. And they process the news, both bad and good, with a wisdom younger people lack.

Those tender moments are when “Walk” shows what it might have been without the sitcom banter and stale situations.

What a shame that “Walk” required an R rating thanks to some some F-bombs and Katz’s misadventures. As is, the film’s simple story and genuine chemistry between the leads would have made it a fine time waster for young and old alike.

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