Ten Thousand Bytes of Cinematic Critique
Over the years, inspirational dramas have come and gone, littering the cinematic landscape with sappy debris. Director Victor Salva assembled various bits to create a Frankenstein's monster of the inspirational drama subgenre. Like the hideous monster, everything about Peaceful Warrior has been seen before elsewhere, and like the Universal Studios monster, it suffers from some kind of brain damage (we're ignoring the book version, wherein the monster was strangely literate). This is a movie based on the true story of a fictionalized autobiography (...yeah) written by Dan Millman, the 1964 winner of the World Trampoline Championship. It's directed by Salva, who first read the book while in prison for child molestation. I have pretty much explained the most interesting information regarding the movie. The rest is tripe. Millman, screenwriter Kevin Bernhardt and Salva have managed to concoct a ridiculous tale about a gymnast, the fictional Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz), who meets an old man, "Socrates" (Nick Nolte), that works at a gas station at nights and can vertically jump onto roofs. This entices fictional Millman, who spends the movie trying to figure out how to do that. Along the way, Socrates teaches fictional Millman strength, serenity, and telepathy. I'm serious. While the telepathy scene could be a metaphor for recognizing people's true thoughts by their body language and actions, it's done so heavy-handed and layered with so much mysticism that the film seems to be asking us to be taking it straight, as presented. This happens quite a bit, which makes me wonder if I was seeing allegories, magic, or insanity. Peaceful Warrior was written as a kind of self-help book about finding happiness and fulfillment by tapping into your own potential and believing in yourself. Thus, "Socrates" is always dishing out advice and philosophy (hence his nickname), some of which I found to be worthwhile, but a lot of which seemed like complete bullshit. I don't mean that I don't believe it, I mean that it was simply stupid. I wish I could recall some specific examples, but I tried to dump most of the film out of my mind to avoid causing serious damage to my brain. Basically, if pseudo-samurai stuff like "A warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does," appeals to you, than you can either watch this or listen to Master Splinter in some old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons. At least in the cartoons, something interesting happens. In Peaceful Warrior, the most exciting thing is an accident which leaves fictional Millman disenfranchised and unable to do what he loves...until Socrates shows him the path of spiritual and physical rediscovery, which culminates with fictional Millman not only emerging stronger, but also able to do anything he puts his mind to, overcoming great obstacles. As alluded to, the movie takes advantage of pretty much every cliché used in these types of movies. Fictional Millman, at his lowest point following his accident, smashes his trophies...in slow motion. Familiar? There's a training montage, a wise old man, overly wrought music, a moral that can be seen coming from the first ten minutes, etc. Did you know you can use rain for dramatic effect? Peaceful Warrior's creators did!If there's one part of the movie I genuinely nearly enjoyed, it was how Nick Nolte tackled his role. I mean, he does well enough with the role he's given, which is basically a Caucasian Mr. Miyagi. While various parts of the film made me chuckle, he managed to be convincing. Anyone that can say "I call myself a Peaceful Warrior...because the battles we fight are on the inside" and not even twitch deserves credit. Everyone else in the film is pretty much there because of their hard bodies. I'm not saying they can't act, I'm just saying their ability to act was secondary to their ability to have great muscle definition and stand around shirtless, if the scene called for it. The scene never called for it, but the shirts came off anyway. At least on the men, anyway. Amy Smart plays Joy, Socrates' friend (I think; it's never explained). She is also a fellow student at fictional Millman's university, eventually becoming a romantic interest for fictional Millman. Sort of. She's only on screen for a total of about ten minutes, but fictional Millman finally gets a hard-on for her. When he asks her to go out, she says maybe, and nothing is ever made of it again. That is, until after the movie is over. Basically, Peaceful Warrior is philosophical fortune cookie wisdom thread together with standard movie conventions. It's a by the numbers affair designed to appeal to young women looking to see hard bodies and/or people with no self-esteem. While it's not necessarily poor, it is basic fare and nothing original.
A very insightful review. I did actually find it inspirational for what its worth (I was obsessed with the mutant turtles as a kid though!!)but was put in hysterics after reading your blog.
You didn't enjoy it cause there isn't enough car crash and bank robberies...lol Try and watch it now 9 years later and see if you've matured enough to get it ;)
You want me to re-watch a movie with a 25% on the Rotten Tomatoes meter? If you took ten minutes to browse the site, you would know that "car crash [sic] and bank robberies" are some of the least of my interests in film. I'm sorry if this kind of drama appeals to you, or if you happen to be Victor Salva (it's not necessarily fair to dump on someone trying to make art, which I at least believe was the intention). However, I do want to thank you for letting me re-read this great line: "This is a movie based on the true story of a fictionalized autobiography (...yeah) written by Dan Millman, the 1964 winner of the World Trampoline Championship."
Haha, damn, that IS a great line.
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