2001, PG-13, 124 min. Directed by Iain Softley. Starring Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Ajay Naidu, Peter Gerety, Alfre Woodard, Mary McCormack, Conchata Ferrell, Saul Williams.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 26, 2001
Based on the novel by Gene Brewer, K-PAX is the story of Prot (Spacey), a man who claims to have traveled to Earth from another planet (the K-PAX of the title). Appearing in Grand Central Station one day, he's quickly hustled off to a psychiatric hospital where he comes under the care of Dr. Mark Powell (Bridges), a physician too wrapped up in his work to see the fragmenting state of his own home life. Powell is immediately intrigued by the mysterious Prot. Not only has he never encountered a patient with such a far-reaching and complex delusion, but Prot's unlikely knowledge of the more arcane points of astrophysics also leaves him second-guessing his own diagnosis. Could it be that the man is not a man at all? Of course, this is Kevin Spacey we're talking about, an actor who in the past has been more than a little outré in his performances. From the equally enigmatic Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects to the cunning John Doe of Se7en, Spacey has consistently chosen roles that challenge both his own abilities and the perceptions of the audience. K-PAX just takes all this one small step further. Spacey's performance here -- alongside Bridges -- is what keeps the movie from descending completely into the sort of goopy melodrama it frequently threatens to become. He plays Prot less like a spaceman than a spaceboy, given to hanging out in trees, doodling in his notebook, and gamely fielding Dr. Powell's persistent questions with adolescent sass and a hint of bored bravado. The question at the heart of the film -- is Prot really from another planet or is he just a terribly wounded man with a dark secret luring in his past somewhere -- is nothing new, and echoes of previous films which tackled or at least danced with the subject matter are readily apparent (the 1986 Argentine import Man Facing Southeast comes to mind, as does that other man, the one who fell to Earth and looked a lot like David Bowie). When not meeting with Dr. Powell, Prot engages his fellow in-patients and begins to offer them some sort of hope regarding their various illnesses. Above all, then, the role is a Christ analogy, and although it's fairly obvious, it's nowhere near as heavy-handed as I had feared. My chief complaint with K-PAX is not with either Spacey or Bridges -- both are excellent and firmly ground a film that at times seems too ready to take flight into vapid and obvious moralism. The screenplay by Charles Leavitt (The Mighty), however, consistently introduces little subplots (with Prot's fellow patients, for instance, or with a group of scientists astounded by Prot's inexplicable knowledge of the vagaries of space-time) that seem promising and end up going absolutely nowhere. There's a sense of the unresolved at film's end, and I'm not just referring to the question of Prot and his ever-present Ray-Bans. While nowhere near as mawkish at the abysmal Pay It Forward, K-PAX nevertheless seems somehow unfocused and meandering; it's Spacey-light.