Peaceful Warrior is pretty much an extended version of the training sequence on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, but with Scott Mechlowicz playing the brash, arrogant Luke Skywalker and Nick Nolte--looking disturbingly like Kenny Rogers these days--in the overall-sporting role of Yoda. Except this isnít a space opera. The self-help philosophies pimped out in this adaptation of Dan Millmanís memoir Way of the Peaceful Warrior just sound that hokey after three decades of opportunists exploiting Eastern philosophies for profit.
Director Victor Salva has left behind horror fare like the Jeepers Creepers series and returned to the metaphysical nature of his much under-rated Powder with this tale of a gymnastís road to personal discovery and spiritual recovery following a motorcycle accident that leaves one of his legs shattered. The doctors say heíll never compete again. Once Olympics bound, the egomaniacal Dan Millman (Mechlowicz) resigns himself to a life of crushed dreams until his spiritual adviser Socrates (Nolte)--a gas station clerk who declares, "This is a service station, we offer service: Thereís no higher purpose"--encourages him to do the impossible and find a way back onto the rings he loves so much. To do this, Dan has to throw out "the trash" cluttering up his mind and find a way to "live in the moment." If he can accomplish this--after sweeping and scrubbing bathroom floors like another Daniel-san, of course--heíll gain quasi-supernatural powers that can, like they allow Socrates, allow him to leap a few dozen feet into the air and hear butterfly wings.
Supposedly, this is all based on a true story and the real Dan Millman can accomplish such things. That aside, Peaceful canít help but flounder as an inspirational dramatic tool ŗ la Rocky or even 8 Mile, because it too much wants to spoon-feed you New Age one-liners like "Sometimes you have to lose your mind before you come to your senses." The filmic Dan, just as we are expected to do, gobbles up aphorisms like "A warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does" without ever learning what they really mean. Sure, they sound smart. They sound wise. They even sound like common sense. But what they truly mean canít be learned simply by hearing the words spoken. And thatís the problem: Peaceful wants to be more, it should be more, but, like New Age philosophy, epiphanies donít come in quotable form.
Nevertheless, watching Nolteís Yoda and Mechlowicz--a real talent, waiting to be let out--butt heads with each other, not to mention some truly fantastic gymnastics sequences, is a hell of a lot more fun than sitting through one of Tony Robbinsí seminars.