1½ stars (out of four)
In Dan Millman's semi-autobiographical 1980 memoir "Way of the Peaceful Warrior," the ace gymnast wrote about how he learned to live a more giving and centered life and become a truer athlete under the mentorship of a Berkeley, Calif., gas station attendant Millman called "Socrates." Millman's bestseller carried the subtitle "A Book That Changes Lives." Who knows, the film version could change a life or two too. But only if the lives in question are really, really, really susceptible to change.
For two long hours, amid creamy, awestruck close-ups of muscly young gymnasts and their body doubles, "Peaceful Warrior" dispenses more inspirational axioms for better living than a decade's worth of Mitch Albom speaking engagements. Scott Mechlowicz portrays Millman, depicted by screenwriter Kevin Bernhardt as a callow egotist plagued by nightmares of his legs shattering beneath him. One night, out for a run, he passes by an all-night service station operated by a mysterious bearded fellow who can leap up on rooftops in nanoseconds. This man, played by Nick Nolte, knows exactly what sort of training, reprogramming and soul-cleansing Millman requires.
Nolte's gruff, mystically gifted Socrates starts right in with the life lessons. "Service to others"--that's key. "Take out the trash," Socrates instructs Millman, pointing to his head. "There are no ordinary moments," he adds. The core of being a warrior is "absolute vulnerability," not invulnerability. He doesn't mention "Here today, gone tomorrow," or the one about leading a horse to water, but you get the idea.
Director Victor Salvo's gloppy, reverential-plus pacing drains whatever humor might be had in these frequent late-night gas station seminars. The cast is quite good. But "Peaceful Warrior," which is basically "The Karate Kid" with a bigger kid and a bigger mentor, represents a journey of predictability, rather than a destination worth the trouble.
Directed by Victor Salva; screenplay by Kevin Bernhardt, based on the novel "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman; cinematography by Sharone Meir; edited by Ed Marx; production design by Anthony Tremblay; produced by Mark Amin, Cami Winikoff, Robin Schorr and David Welch. A Lionsgate release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:00. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sensuality, sex references and accident scenes).
Socrates - Nick Nolte
Dan Millman - Scott Mechlowicz
Joy - Amy Smart