Director: Iain Softley
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Mary McCormack, Alfre Woodard
MPAA Rating: (for a sequence of violent images, and brief language and sensuality)
Running Time: 2:04
Release Date: 10/26/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
There are certain mysteries of the universe and life that will not be solved in the foreseeable future. K-PAX deals with two obvious ones: 1.) Is there life beyond our planet; and 2.) what can possibly bring a person over the edge of sanity? The first question is toyed with throughout the movie in a device to keep intrigue in its central character and the movie as a whole. It would be quite an intriguing device, too, if not for the formulaic screenplay that pulls every trick in the book to keep us from realizing that this is difficult material to write. There are some very good dialogue scenes in the movie. They touch upon philosophy, science, and imagination, but there’s a way to tell when a movie has such scenes because they emanate from the material and when a movie has such scenes because it would fit as a short break from the plot. K-PAX falls into the latter category.
The movie opens at a train station, where a homeless man watches as a mysterious man (Kevin Spacey) appears, seemingly from a beam of light through a window. The mystery man is arrested after he helps a woman whose purse was stolen and tells the police he is from the planet K-PAX. Cut to a mental hospital where Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) is assigned to treat the man whose name is Prot (pronounced "prote"). Prot is a convincing patient, and Dr. Powell apparently has some doubts about the original diagnosis. Prot is able to mathematically summarize the orbit pattern of the part of the universe he says he is from—information that has never been reported. He knows information about people’s personal lives, and later he can speak to Dr. Powell’s dog. He also has a large effect on his fellow patients. He gives one three tasks so that he can be cured, has them all convinced he is from K-PAX, and promises that he will take one of them with him when he leaves.
When the central thrust of a story has as much intrigue as this, it takes a lot to spoil it. K-PAX somehow manages to do so. The majority of the problem lies with the formulaic screenplay. Dr. Powell’s family and the patients seem like necessary inclusions to maintain the semblance of a plot. This is most definitely a character-driven movie, and when characters feel like tools of the screenplay and not actual people, something important is lost. Another problem is the overly saccharine tone that appears more than a few times. This is a movie that is obviously trying to please everyone but unfortunately does not realize that is an impossibility. These factors lead to a major problem in the resolution of the alien question. The conclusion is obviously going for ambiguity, and in a movie with less formula, it would be ambiguous. The result here is a convoluted finale, full of the wrong kinds of questions—the kinds that find the faults within the script instead of the possibilities.
It’s too bad, too, because there are two very good performances holding the central relationship together. Spacey shows once again that he needs to find a dramatic role without an ounce of sarcasm or irony. He’s great here, playing with either the imagination this man must have or the memories this alien must have. One of the easiest ways of getting around the possible lack of audience connection with a character is to cast a well-known actor, and Spacey proves that fact. There’s something captivating about when he takes off his sunglasses for the first time. That Bridges holds his own is impressive, but that he manages to keep his character somehow just as interesting as Prot is an accomplishment. Later the movie begins delving into the Prot’s past, and the scenes have a raw emotional intensity. It’s powerful material, even though it’s still unclear as to what exactly is going on.
Unfortunately, by the time we reach these scenes, which may or may not begin delving into that second question I brought up earlier, we’ve already been cheated far too many times. The doctor/patient scenes are the movie’s heart, and they are thoroughly effective. I would love to recommend it for that fact alone, but I cannot because the rest is such a disappointment. K-PAX promises so much but ultimately achieves too little.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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