K-PAX (2001) 

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Kevin Spacey
Jeff Bridges
Mary McCormack
Alfre Woodard
Ajay Naidiu
Vincent Laresca
Kimberly Scott
Conchata Ferrell
Saul Williams
Peter Gerety
David Patrick Kelly

Iain Softley



Time: 118 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama

When I got my Fall Movie Preview, this is one of the films that I was looking forward to seeing. You can't do much better than Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, so I figured it would be at least entertaining. After encountering less than stellar reviews, I became a bit wary, but finally gave in. Who could resist Spacey playing a potential extraterrestrial? I was sure his performance would be worth the price of admission. I can honestly say I was pretty sure what the outcome of the film was going to be, since it's a drama and not science fiction; however, the ride to the finale is an intelligent and interesting one. Unfortunately, it goes on for entirely too long to be thoroughly enjoyable. What keeps this fairly by the numbers psychological drama engrossing, besides the acting, is the idea that Prot (Spacey), a being who looks human, is from another planet. It's a delusion shrinks probably encounter far more often than we imagine.

Though Dr. Mark Powell doesn't really believe Prot's claim to be from K-PAX, the filmmakers go out of their way to try to make the audience buy into that theory. It makes their relationship and Spacey's character all the more intriguing. He's so convincing he has Mark halfway believing his claims. It goes without saying that the other inmates on his floor become enamoured with Prot and his tales of a better existence far from their current problems. Not only does his unsubstantiated, yet highly intelligent notions get under the skin of Dr. Powell, but the advice he gives his fellow patients to cure them, has the administration in an uproar. It seems their conversations are leading nowhere, until Prot leaves a bread crumb leading to his true identity. Mark becomes desperate to uncover the mystery before it's too late to save Prot...or himself. You see, Prot found his way into Mark's life to break down his barriers and help him appreciate his life more. Mark's wife and kids have been trying to gain his attention for years, but it apparently takes a mental patient who believes he's an alien to get through to him.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have a beam of light to catch."

It's also not a huge surprise, at least not to me, what really happened to Prot to land him in the loony bin, though it's handled in a first-class way with truly honest acting by Bridges. The horror that's uncovered through regression hypnosis is enough to drive anyone over the edge. Of course, the filmmakers don't want you leaving with the idea that this is just a flick about a man who's gone crazy due to an incomprehensible tragedy in his life. The day that's he's supposed to be beamed back to K-PAX something unexplained does happen that is meant to make you believe he really was telling the truth. I found it to be a bit cheeky, but still somehow believable.

What makes this film different from other mental patient dramas is the possibility that Spacey is telling the truth about his origins. It's not much to hang one's hat on, but for most of the film it works. His descriptions of life on K-PAX seem feasible, which makes his character all that more believable. The film would be a joke if there wasn't at least a small bit of plausibility. I know it's not exactly sane to buy into this idea, but it's also crazy to think that we're the only life in this vast universe. I guess my main complaint about the story is the time wasted with other characters. The supporting cast do their jobs well, but there's too many of them without enough to do. They just clutter the story, diluting the message and adding to the length, which doesn't help. I love Alfre Woodard, but I can't understand why she would take a 5 minute role that adds nothing to the film.

I'm not really sure what would have made this a better film, besides being about 20 minutes shorter. If you've seen the trailer, what you saw is what you get – an intriguing tale that is neither outstanding nor awful. Thankfully, Softley errs on the side of subtlety. Otherwise, this could have been a very painful experience. As it stands, it's a well-crafted film with solid performances by its' leading men that raise the quality of the story and make it more interesting than it has a right to be. However, I don't think either of them will be receiving any awards come Oscar time. If you're a fan of Bridges or Spacey, than you'll most likely enjoy this movie. Otherwise, unless you're a sucker for "carpe diem" fare, this is one you can catch on video.

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