Review: Peaceful Warrior
It may perhaps surprise you to learn that Peaceful Warrior is the worst super-hero film of the summer. “Bwuh?” You are perhaps thinking. “I was under the impression that it was a trenchant and richly philosophical inspirational character piece.” To which I would respond “Perhaps that’s the film you thought you were making, Mr. Salva,” (since he, i.e. you, would be the only person on the planet so generous in their appraisal) “but in fact you’ve wound up with a turgid, overlong sad-sack of a film that embraces the YOU CAN DOOO EEET! mentality to an absolutely ludicrous extent, playing fast and loose with the laws of the mind, body, and external reality for virtually no reason beyond dramatic expedience.”
All of that is a long-winded way to say that Peaceful Warrior was really kinda stupid. Dan Millman’s novel, which I have not read, appears to be a sort of low-rent magic-realist Karate Kid, blending Millman’s own true story of Olympic gymnastic competition with a rather fanciful account of the wonders of his mentor, “Socrates,” a service-station proprietor who taught him wonderful lessons about life, the soul, etc. etc. while seemingly performing fantastic feats of physical and spiritual prowess (One of the partner reviews on the Amazon listing for the novel describes the patently unrealistic character of Socrates as "drawn from emotional rather than factual memory," which I'm prepared to accept as a valid artistic decision under certain conditions, but we'll get to that in a second). As a story, it’s frankly the worst kind of wish-fulfillment claptrap, using the hoary chestnuts of “Believe in yourself!” and “Know what’s inside you!” to justify why a character who is in just about every way a toxic douchebag should merit the admiration of his peers, the accolades of the professional world, and the love of a beautiful woman. But the entirely ridiculous nature of Socrates’ accomplishments – fifteen-foot vertical leaps, near-telepathic reflexes, the power to induce visions – come off as just plain silly, as the film’s tone is consistently awkward, making every moment that violates the laws of physics feel either obnoxiously overblown or puzzlingly de rigeur.
Something interesting could’ve been done with a premise so clearly unhinged from the norm, but these filmmakers simply weren’t up to the task – the script is riddled with clichés, from the teeth-gnashingly awful deep proclamations (“It’s about the journey!”) to the audaciously contrived plotting (“It was all a dream!” That one comes into play more than once, I’m sad to report), all depressingly mundane notes that manage to make the story feel as if it is not unhinged from the norm, but is in fact an entirely by-the-numbers athletic-inspiration film wearing the makeup of a more ambitious movie. It’s a pleasure to see Nick Nolte perform with some gravitas and a marked lack of scenery-chewing (since my last Nolte exposure was in Ang Lee’s Hulk, you’ll forgive me if I was peering through covered eyes when he first appeared on screen), and he does bring more than a few moments of dignity to the otherwise less-than-stellar material, but he can’t save a film that has nothing particularly memorable to say about any of the subjects it engages. Imagine the bastard child of Stick It and Waking Life, without the half-retarded glee of the former and the inventive visuals of the latter, and you’re halfway there.