K-Pax (MCA/Universal Pictures) official web site
Review by Ernest Lilley

Directed by Iain Softley

Writing credits: Gene Brewer (novel) Charles Leavitt

Cast: Kevin Spacey .... prot / Jeff Bridges .... Dr. Mark Powell / Mary McCormack .... Rachel Powell / Alfre Woodard .... Dr. Claudia Villers / Ajay Naidu .... Dr. Ajay Naidiu / Vincent Laresca .... Navarro / Kimberly Scott (I) .... Joyce Trexler / Conchata Ferrell .... Betty McAllister / Saul Williams (I) .... Ernie / Peter Gerety .... Sal / David Patrick Kelly .... Howie / Melanee Murray .... Bess / Tracy Vilar .... Maria / Celia Weston .... Mrs. Archer / Brian Howe .... Dr. Steve Becker (Source: IMDB info)
 

photoIn K-PAX, Kevin Spacey plays "Prot", a man who appears seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of a New York train station, and quickly convinces the NYPD that's wherever he's from, he's heading for the loony bin. 

Where he's from, he tells everyone, is the Planet K-PAX, 1000 light years away and circling a binary start system, a system that we have only just discovered, and about which only a small handful of astronomers are even aware. And no, there aren't any astronomers missing.

photoJeff Bridges, who played an alien visitor in human guise himself in Starman, is the psychiatrist that tries to unravel the enigma. Though Bridges character, "Dr. Mark Powell", is sure that Prot is delusional, he's having the devil of a time finding holes in his story. When his astrophysicist Brother in Law sets up a meeting (at newly renovated David Rose Center for Earth and Space Studies in NYC), the senior scientist in the group comes away goggleyed and muttering, "How could you know these things?" 

Well, they're common knowledge on K-PAX.

Prot can also see into the Ultra-Violet, shrugs off the effects of Thorazine, and winces in anything brighter than twilight.

So the movie works to convince the audience that quite possibly Prot is the genuine article.

Until Prot mentions that he's going home in a few weeks. And that he can take someone with him.

These are words that strike terror into a psychiatrist's heart, and Dr. Powell races against time to try and find out who Prot really is, and what could have happened to make him create a fantasy so deep that no trace of his real self is left showing.

Now the movie works against the alien hypothesis as Powell uncovers clues to Prot's human identity.

The audience's part naturally is to sit back and watch the tennis match between Prot and Powell, Prot serving, and Powell returning a few, missing a few...right up to the end, where Powell gets up to deliver his killer serve. 

Along the way, we get to watch Powell's life in crisis as well. An estranged son, a wife and family that he shuts out for his work, an obsession with his favorite K-PAXian. Prot may or may not have the power to travel on a beam of light, but he does have he power to reach into the lives of those around him and help them find themselves.

I'd love to say that K-PAX is a terrific movie. Unfortunately it falls short of that mark by quite a bit. It's a nice movie. I enjoyed it, though it was a bit slow in spots, and I was pleased with both the ending and the NYC crowd's response, giving it a moderate round of applause. New Yorkers are a tough audience, and I've seen them walk stonily out of movies that I found terrific. I suspect they're softening up. We'll see if that lasts.

Of the several different outcomes for Prot's claim of extra-terrestrial origin, the movie can't seem to make up its mind and pick one. While that's understandable as a device to keep the audience engaged, there are a number of clues that contradict each other, and one is left scratching one's head and wondering if the screenwriter thought it all through. The ultimate conclusion I was left with was that it's just a movie, and doesn't have to make perfect sense...but that means the movie failed to talk me into putting aside my overly developed reason for its message. 

Ultimately, I wound up feeling let down, and there were too many places where they should have said, "and then a miracle occurs" and been done with it, as the miracles they contrived were lackluster.

Kevin Spacey was terrific in his portrayal of Prot. True, he seems to have been based on Trek's Lt. Cmdr. Data, but where Brent Spiner's character failed to understand the facts he spewed, Spacey's Prot looks out on the world with canniness and guile, gauging the reactions of those around him and playing to them masterfully. Except when he's clueless. I suspect the screenwriter suffers from mood swings, and takes it out on his characters.

Bridges was only good as the Psychiatrist, which is a pity, as he's been much more than good in other films, like Those Fabulous Baker Boys and, um...oh yes...Starman. His family was nice, his wife (Mary McCormack ) attractive, but if he can ignore them through the movie, so can we.

K-PAX wanted to trust audiences, but chickened out at the last minute. Instead of letting us make connection for ourselves, the movie uses heavy foreshadowing and flashbacks to make sure we don't miss the point. A little more mystery would have served the story much better.

If you want to go to the movies, or if you're a fan of Kevin Spacey, go see K-PAX. If you were thinking of going bowling instead, feel free to wait for it on video.

Alternate Universes...

The truth about K-PAX is that I can think of a handful of movies on the same subject, some with the at least one of the main characters in it, that are just plain better movies. If you haven't seen these movies, you should. If you have, rent them all and make your own film festival.

coverStarman - Starring Jeff Bridges as an alien who fell to earth, wrapped himself in the skin of a dead guy, and did a Thelma and Louise across Arizona to get picked up in a big shiny ball. His character defined a genre, and came up with some pretty good lines too.cover

Twelve Monkeys - Bruce Willis may not have been an Alien, but the dynamic of time traveler and psychiatrist is a pretty close match to that of Alien and psychiatrist. K-PAX has considerably less romance and will probably leave less of an impact on you in the long run.

coverPhenomenon - Not a perfect film itself, but a heck of a lot better than K-PAX, but for Spacey's performance. John Travolta plays a mechanic that's convinced he's been visited by aliens, or something, and has suddenly become brilliant beyond human reckoning. Much as in K-PAX, there's a Doctor trying to figure out what happened, but there's coverno ambiguity to the ending or to my affection for the film.

The Usual Suspects - Kevin Spacey's best film ever, in my opinion. Though it's not SF, there are a lot of elements in this drama that mirror the "prove to me that you're an alien/time traveler/superhuman" genre. Complete with the trick ending. Brilliantly written, brilliantly performed.

2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu