Harry Hamlin steps out of the bygone Manhattan of "Mad Men" and into contemporary Santa Monica for "The Fourth Noble Truth," a film whose subject transcends time and place. It's a lesson in Buddhism disguised as a romantic pas de deux — or maybe vice versa.
Either way, this introduction to the Buddha's Eightfold Path is often clever and occasionally exasperating. Giving spiritual concepts dramatic form, writer-director Gary T. McDonald's scenario involves a pampered movie star's attempts to seduce his meditation teacher.
To avoid jail time for a road-rage assault, Hamlin's Aaron agrees to take meditation classes. His instruction from Rachel (Kristen Kerr), a part-time actress, unfolds as a well-argued debate on some of the bedrock teachings of Buddhism, namely the need to disentangle from the desires, attachments and fixations that cause suffering (and define much of modern life).
As Rachel guides her resistant student through the elements of the Eightfold Path (right intention, right speech, etc.), her measured tranquillity is continually complicated by sexual tension. Kerr captures Rachel's conflicted outlook, and Hamlin's effortless turn reveals a charmer gradually stripped of his defenses. The well-paired duo navigate a subtly shifting line, but Rachel's determination not to become the latest of Aaron's conquests grows tiresome, their impasses repetitive.
At its sharpest, McDonald's meditatively paced story embodies the absurdities and compromises of being human — with a Hollywood slant. On the set of a big-budget war movie, Rachel and Aaron, costumed as a hooker and a military officer, discuss the precept of right livelihood.
"The Fourth Noble Truth."
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles.