No matter how hard he tries, and he often tries too hard, Robert Redford cannot slip the velvet robe of “movie star.” Hollywood found him on Broadway in a couple of light comedies, bleached his red hair, blued up his eyes and made him a movie star. But they could never make him an actor on the order of De Niro and Pacino, Hoffman and Hackman. Studios knew that American women and their daughters missed “gorgeous.” So they created Robert Redford, and they knew what to do with him.

They put him in films with stronger talents like Paul Newman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting,” Streisand in “The Way We Were” and Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa,” and they got lucky. He was the perfect money-making “co-star,” handsome and sexy, no serious acting required.

But then Redford’s real gifts have always been in producing and directing, winning an Oscar for “Ordinary People.”

Here in “A Walk in the Woods,” his latest as actor/producer, Redford stepped into a role he carved for his friend Paul Newman, that of travel writer Bill Bryson, who in later years got the midlife itch and went to walking the fabled Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

But Newman got sick and turned it down. Ten years later, unable to find the right actor, Redford stepped in, and here that magic formula worked again for him.

He cast himself along with the charismatic master of the drunken loser, the impossible ’60s gnome Nick Nolte, looking for all the world like an escapee from a Chicago drunk tank.

Redford protected his flank with the wonderful Emma Thompson, being more wonderful than ever. For good measure, he picked the tricky Mary Steenburgen, who gives him 10 minutes as a motel owner on the trail.

Wife Emma didn’t want him to go on this impossible journey and die or get some tick disease, so she insisted he take someone along.

Everybody rejected him but one, a loser from his past who owed him $600, the scratchy, drunken gnarly Katz (Nolte).

In real life, Bryson and Katz were some 20 years younger than they’re portrayed here. It doesn’t matter.

There is humor here, a lot of old fart jokes, sexual escapade memories from their travels in Europe. Katz, fighting the booze and bored, takes up with a heavy blonde woman in a laundromat, rescuing her torn pink panties from the dryer. Blessedly, we don’t see their union in the adjoining motel, but her brutish biker hubby comes looking for Katz. The boys’ escape back to the woods is one of the funnier moments.

We also get an annoying hiker, who knows all the answers and never stops talking (comic Kristen Schaal), and a midnight attack from a family of bears.

But this isn’t a Hope/Crosby road buddy movie. It has its serious moments. And it isn’t a Cassidy-Sundance reunion either, even though they find themselves trapped on a cliff above a roaring river with no way out. We almost expect Redford to insert Newman’s famous line “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.”‘

“Parks and Recreation” comic Nick Offerman appears as an equipment dealer in a funny bit.

“A Walk in the Woods” tells us three things: Robert Redford possibly still has a better movie in him, one he directs. Nick Nolte has decided that being a legend, even a desultory burn out, is better than working for a living. And three, the Appalachian Trail is best suited for Navy SEALs.

J.P. Devine is a former movie and stage actor.

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