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K-Pax
2001 - PG-13 - 118 Mins.
Director: Iain Softley
Producer: Robert F. Colesberry, Susan G. Pollack, Michael Levy, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Written By: Charles Leavitt, Bryan Goluboff
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodard, Aaron Paul, Mary McCormack
Review by: David Trier
   
Starman meets Mr. Frost. Both of them were better. Quick question, how come characters of alien nature (or mermaids, etc.) have no idea how to eat things with obvious peels or shells? Thousands of light years of travel technology, but can't peel a banana. Just a thought.

Prot (Kevin Spacey) “shows up” at Grand Central station in New York and is promptly handcuffed and sent to a psychiatric ward when he tells a police officer he’s from a planet called K-Pax. Right. This sort of thing happens all the time. There he meets Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges), a psychiatrist who in my opinion doesn’t seem to ever do any work. As Prot sticks to his story, Powell begins to wonder if the story is true. He asks his astro-physicist friend (everyone has one) to legitimize Prot and he does. The doctors are also impressed by his subtle abilities, like seeing ultraviolet rays. More on this screwed up scientific mumbo-jumbo later. Livin’ it up at the Hotel Crazy-Crazy, Prot befriends an OCD patient named Howie and gives him some tasks in exchange for maybe taking him to K-Pax. Ultimately, through hypnosis and research, Powell discovers who Prot most likely is/was. A few years ago, he was just a lowly knocker (the guy that hits cows on the head before they’re slaughtered) and one day he returned home to see his wife and daughter had been raped and murdered. Traumatized, he jumped into a river and no one ever saw him again... or did they? If you recall, a similar thing happened to Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, except there it turned him into Kaiser Soze. Here it turned him into Prot... or did it? In a last ditch effort, Powell confronts Prot about his real past but can never really prove that he isn’t also an alien... or something.

There are a few good moments in this film. Just watching Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey in the same room is kind of nice. The best performance, however, comes from David Patrick Kelly. Despite forever being in my mind as the evil snake-headed killer from Dreamscape, his portrayal of Howie is genuine and touching. Some other members of the supporting cast are worth mentioning. Alfre Woodard as Claudia Villars is not one of them. I guess she runs the hospital or something, but she doesn’t seem to want any of the patients to get well and just sort of shows up and expresses her disappointment at random points in the movie. Her delivery isn’t great, in a role best suited for that old guy who used to be the DA on Law and Order (Steven Hill). Ajay Naidu is pretty convincing as Dr. Chakraborty. He was hilarious as Samir in Office Space and we’ll be seeing more of him soon I’m sure. Saul Williams is also pretty good as Ernie, the patient with contamination fears. Mary McCormack is in it, not that anyone would notice. She plays the token emotionally neglected wife and doesn’t have much to do. There’s a subplot involving a neglected son that shows up in the end. The boy must have been happy to get the part, because there’s no real reason to have him in the movie.

Jeff Bridges, although one of the best actors in the world, seems to be struggling to stay awake the whole time. Granted, the part isn’t good enough for him, but with the exception of the scene in which he finally figures out who Prot really is/was, he really just phoned this one in. My guess is all acting will be done this way in the future. It’s much more efficient. Kevin Spacey, also a great great talent, has offically overused that smirk. If I see him smirk like that ever again, I’ll find him and kick his ass. He has his inevitable crying scene and he’s very good, but again the role is still best suited for someone like Dolph Lundgren or Don Knotts. Different approaches, I know. There are a few good ideas brought up, although none of them are fully explored. Prot’s criticism of the “an eye for an eye” philosophy is quite welcome, but little else is said on the matter. Which brings me to my rant. What’s wrong with this film? Well, I’ll tell you. Thanks for asking.

There’s no dramatic conflict! This is a prerequisite for even low achieving screenwriters. Nothing is really ever wrong, no one is really very sick, nobody’s life is in danger, nothing really needs to be done. The whole movie is about this uninteresting zombie psychiatrist who really wants to know if his patient is an alien. Well, whoopedeedoo. For the record, it doesn’t matter if I, the audience member, know whether or not Prot is really from K-Pax, but I question if the writer even knows. This is important. Someone should get to the bottom of this. Here’s the choices. 1) Prot is not an alien, just a delusional wiseguy. But how can he see ultraviolet light? And how the hell does this overall-wearing cow-clubbing fellow know so much about astro-physics? By the way, how would an ALIEN know so much about astro-physics? But still, it seems most likely (and by most I don’t necessarily mean very) that Prot is a character this guy created for himself to deal with his grief. 2) Prot is an alien from K-Pax. You know, where the K-Paxians come from. Like the whole planet refers to themselves as K-Paxians. Sure. Well, he does know where his planet is. I sure don’t have a clue where mine is. But if he’s just an alien, why does he subject himself to thorazine treatment? And why does he have all these seemingly insignificant memories of childhood on earth? No, he must be projecting this Prot character. He must just be a messed up dude. The best written elements of the film, by the way, are the parts that involve Prot’s childhood memories. Maybe. 3) Prot is an alien using Kevin Spacey’s body as its host. This would explain why he turns catatonic in the end. But of course, this is refuted by him smiling through the catatonia when Powell tells him about the patients. It also seems like something Prot would have mentioned. What he says is that he comes in human form because it is the most representative of Earthlings essentially. Technically, this isn’t true. There are way more insects than people and realistically speaking, most of the planet is covered with water and any self-respecting alien would be more interested in deep sea marine life. Side note: Now would be a good time for an alien attack. We humans could use a common enemy right about now. 4) Prot is the devil. The devil confuses movie critics. This one isn’t very likely but I thought I’d throw it in there.

Anyway, before I lose my train of thought again before I lose my train my train of thought before again train before lose I the thought I want to express my sincere disappointment with this film’s take on mental illness. Let’s forget that the mental institution itself is the nicest, cleanest, friendliest place on earth where mildly dysfunctional silly people lounge about all day and the worst thing that happens is someone having Jell-O thrown at them. Let’s forget all that and dive right into the film’s theory that all the mentally ill need to get better are a few nice words and something to do. This philosophy is one of the main reasons the world is full of homeless sick people – nobody takes this stuff seriously. At one point, Howie stares intently out a window looking for “the bluebird of happiness” on Prot’s suggestion. Dr. Powell is immediately concerned. “Obsessive-compulsives don’t just stare out the window,” he states with conviction. Well, excuse me, Doctor (if that is your real name) , but if the dude’s counting all the right angles in a piece of shrubbery every day, you better be damn sure homey’s gonna stare out da window all damn week, fool! Sorry, I was channeling Mr. T there. Anyway, Powell has the easiest psychiatry job I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t spend all day fighting with insurance companies (like real psychiatrists do) and his patient load is light enough that he can take unannounced trips to New Mexico in search of Prot’s true identity. It's unclear why they become such good friends in the end when throughout most of the movie they don't seem to like each other all that much. But that's Hollywood for ya.

The film was directed by Iain Softley the hack that ironically brought us Hackers. Tranc-y elevator music starts in the opening credits and basically never relents until after you’ve left the theater. Prot is pretty clear that K-Pax is spelled the way it is, so I suppose they use standard Western text to write over there. There’s no crime, no families and sex is painful. Oooh they’re soooo advaaanced. One final note. At one point, Prot eats a banana and then says, “Your produce alone has been worth the trip.” Couple things. First off, it sounds like he’s saying “protus” which while technically not a word, sounds an awful lot to me like “semen”. Add to this that the man just downed a banana and I have to wonder what the real underlying message of this film was.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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