Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:58 - Released 10/26/01

First off, I must say that I feel K-PAX is an unfortunate title for Iain Softley's alien visitation movie starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, because every time I hear it I can't help thinking of feminine hygiene products. But I guess the title is the responsibility of novelist Gene Brewer. That aside, the film is a thoughtful update of Eliseo Subiela's 1986 film Hombre Mirando Al Sudeste, or Man Facing Southeast, about a mental patient who claims he is from another planet and leads his psychiatrist and most of his fellow patients to believe him. Brewer's story, adapted by Charles Leavitt, serves as a choice showcase for the talents of the ever-versatile Spacey, 1999's best actor Oscar winner (American Beauty), who gives a performance that could possibly garner him another nomination. And Bridges turns in an equally powerful turn as the doctor who learns from his patient. The story has some trite old movie traditions, but Softley downplays the more obvious clichés, generally achieving a balance between wisdom, emotion, and humor.

When Prot (rhymes with "wrote") first appears at Grand Central Station, he looks just like any average person. Well, actually, he looks exactly like Kevin Spacey. But then he makes the age-old mistake we have all made at one time or another. He says to a police officer, "Wow, I forgot—your planet is really bright." This statement lands him in the Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital under the care of Dr. Mark Powell (Bridges), who at first assumes Prot is simply delusional. But when his new patient shows signs of not being human (he is unaffected by huge doses of medicine, shows no emotion except for occasional bemusement at the human race, and knows things about astronomy that astronomers are just now discovering), Dr. Powell begins to take him more seriously. With the infinite patience of superior intelligence, Prot explains that he is a 337-year-old visitor from the planet K-PAX, which is located about 1,000 light years away in the constellation Lyra. K-PAX has 2 suns, 7 purple moons, and a bountiful supply of truffles.

At the expense of his relationship with his wife Rachel (Mary McCormack) and children, Mark begins spending more and more time on Prot's case, trying to find out who this guy is and what happened to cause him to have these delusions. Meanwhile, Prot's interaction with his fellow patients causes many of them to make major progress, eventually turning them into normal, well-adjusted people who all want to accompany him back home, which he has stated will be very soon.

While the story of K-PAX is generally uplifting and whimsical (with a few dark overtones), its text is burdened with tired old conventions too obvious for director Softley not to notice. For instance, as in so many doctor-patient movies, the doctor has unresolved psychological/family issues that are suddenly cured by his association with the patient. Furthermore, the residents of the psychiatric hospital are really more like a bunch of funny, eccentric people than actual mental patients; rather than crafting well-developed characters (like the ones seen in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), Leavitt has simplified them to stereotypes intended merely to further the plot. But the performances of Spacey and Bridges do a lot to counteract the film's weaknesses. Spacey has a nice sense of wonder at all he sees and hears, and if nothing else it's amusing to see him crunching down a banana, peel and all. Moreover, Bridges, an immensely capable actor in a thankless, second-fiddle role, brings humanity and credulity to his character. ****½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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