Shirley Knight, whose first screen appearance was in 1955’s “Picnic” and who collected her first Oscar nomination for 1961’s “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” gets the spotlight one more time in “Redwood Highway,” playing a woman who walks from a retirement home to the coast of Oregon just to prove she can.
It’s a tepid road picture comedy, a journey of discovery with little new to say and even less to reveal about her character — curmudgeonly Marie, a woman who sneaks off for her 85 mile trek because “They’ve taken my house, and my car. But the haven’t taken my legs, yet!”
“They” in this case means mainly her son (James Le Gros). Marie avoids his visits, doesn’t hesitate to remind him of his failed marriage and refuses to his daughter’s wedding out of spite.
“You’d push me right in my coffin,” she growls.
A phone message from her embittered granddaughter (Zena Grey) gives Marie second thoughts. So she raids the breakfast buffet, packs her tiny backpack and sets out from Grants Pass to the coast, following the “Redwood Highway” that is right along the Oregon/California border.
Along the way, she meets cute kids and helpful, hiking teenagers, a bartender and a driftwood artist.
Tom Skerritt, of “M.A.S.H.” and “Alien” and “Steel Magnolias” plays the artist, a cuddly, overly friendly sort who might have given this movie a little more of the many things it lacks. That “lacks” list starts with urgency, as the search for Marie has none and the wedding plans continue. Other shortcomings include charm (the Skerritt scenes have those) and interesting incidents. She stops at the Great Cats World Park, a roadside attraction, a couple of campgrounds, and a bar where she gets loaded. And along the way she meets virtually no one of interest.
Compare this to “The Way,” Martin Sheen’s hike through Spain, or David Lynch’s “The Straight Story,” which sends an old man cross-country on a quest by riding lawnmower. “Redwood” is a road picture without landmarks.
Marie may have flashbacks, seeing some sailor she knew long ago. She may gripe that she needs to do this herself. But even her griping is mild-mannered, lacking comic edge or anything revealing about her personality.
So as fit and well-preserved as Ms. Knight remains, “Redwood” is a bland star vehicle for her, a scenic trip with nothing much to recommend it aside from that scenery.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including a scene of menace
Cast: Shirley Knight, James Le Gros, Tom Skerritt, Zena Grey
Credits: Directed by Gary Lundgren, written by James Twyman and Gary Lundgren. A Monterey Media release.
Running time: 1:30