Evidently, as things like yoga, alternative medicine, and meditation become more accepted by the mainstream, it creates a market of films for the new-agey niche. And that is likely just the audience for Peaceful Warrior, a feel-good, anything's-possible film version of Dan Millman's autobiographical-motivational-self help bestseller, modestly titled Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives.
Scott Mechlowicz plays Dan (which, sure; if an actor is playing you, you definitely want it to be the guy who is a dead ringer for Brad Pitt, only 20 years younger), a hotshot gymnast at Berkeley who is unhappy, despite being a star athlete with great grades and an endless stream of eager co-eds. One middle-of-the-night, Dan happens upon a full-service gas station manned by the gruff-voiced, mysterious Socrates (Nick Nolte), a man who speaks only in platitudes and riddles and seems capable of the impossible.
Socrates takes Dan under his wing, showing him "how to be a warrior" without any irony whatsoever and teaching him to stop overthinking life, to live in the moment and appreciate everything that is around him. The instruction, of course, involves a lot of breaking Dan down in order to build him up and showing him the way to true happiness through menial tasks like scrubbing toilets and fixing engines and it's all very wax on/wax off. It also raises the question: Just how many times is it possible, in a single story, for an arrogant young buck to spurn the teachings of his mentor, only to come crawling back after having Learned a Lesson? (Answer: Very, very many.)
Taken strictly within the Inspirational Sports Drama genre, Peaceful Warrior is ridiculously cheesy. But on the other hand, it's not really fair to judge the characters for speaking in motivational clichés when they are literally personifications of a self-help book; in that sense, they do manage to retain enough normalcy to be endearing. There is, however, no excuse for the overwrought and aggressive score, which literally refuses to let a moment pass without the dun-dun of momentousness or the tinkle-tink of inspiration, and comes to a head in an awesome evil twin scene that is supremely schlocky.
Considering how it could have overshot inspiration, as so many movies do, and headed straight into ham-fisted, eye-rolling cheese, Peaceful Warrior manages to be an alright movie that additionally has a message meant to... well, change lives, if the book is to be believed. There are parts that are likely impossible to translate to screen without looking silly - a montage of all the wonder and beauty happening, right at this very moment, comes to mind, and possibly the aforementioned evil-twinness - but they are not the bulk of the film. And though Mechlowicz is not the name in the cast, he pretty much carries the movie and is equally enjoyable as the cocky jackass and the enlightened zen master; between this and Mean Creek, he's becoming a name to watch.
On the other hand, it's deeply unsettling to consider Warrior within the context of director Victor Salva's other works, the Jeepers Creepers films and Powder - all young men endlessly being menaced or mentored - considering the man is a convicted child molester. It's one thing to pay for your crimes and move on, but it's another entirely to move on to making films that read like a therapy outlet and feature, of all things, a gratuitous shower scene. It's just..not right.
And really, even if you are willing and able to set aside disturbing subtext, you are left with an oft-schmoopy movie for a highly specific audience. It's if you want to be uplifted by the message in your movies, and you're not only accepting of a little acupressure or new age wisdom in your lives, but want the requisite motivational sports training montage to actually be set to it. And are able to do all of the above without dissolving into a fit of giggles at the overuse of slomo.
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th April 2007
Box Office USA: $1.0M
Distributed by: Universal
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Fresh: 18 Rotten: 55
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Victor Salva
Producer: Mark Amin, Robin Schorr, David Welch, Cami Winikoff
Screenwriter: Kevin Bernhardt
Starring: Scott Mechlowicz as Dan Millman, Nick Nolte as Socrates, Amy Smart as Joy, Tim DeKay as Coach Garrick, Ashton Holmes as Tommy, Paul Wesley as Trevor, Agnes Bruckner as Susye, B.J. Britt as Kyle
Also starring: Mark Amin
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