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Review: “K-PAX”

Directed by: Iain Softley
Produced by: Robert F. Colesberry, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Written by: Gene Brewer, Charles Leavitt
Cinematography by: John Mathieson
Music by: Edward Shearmur
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Mary McCormack, Alfre Woodard
Based on the novel by Gene Brewer
Year: 2001


For this review, I decided to outsource the suggestions. While I’m always open to friends and family recommending films to me, it isn’t often that a film suggestion catches me off guard as much as this particular friend’s suggestion did. To understand this, you must understand the friend who recommended K-PAX to me. You see, he’s not really into films. In fact, aside from a few anime productions and some other random suggestions that he would so characteristically justify the viewing of, my friend is relatively disconnected from films, especially sci-fi films. This is a man who has not once, not twice, but countless times told me, “You watch too many movies,” and said it as if it was out of some kind of concern I was in need of intervention. (It’s totally cool, though, I can quit any time I want!) So, that being said, I was rather stunned when his response to my admittedly mildly antagonistic question of “What film should I review next?” was the rather quick response of “K-PAX.”

Having myself forgotten this film even existed in the first place, I immediately set out to find this film at my local Blockbuster to no avail. Luckily, a quick placing of this at the top of my queue got me instant results. It shipped out the very next day and was in my mailbox the day after that. This was a couple weeks ago, so I admit, this film has been getting rather ripe in my mind as I fiddled around with some other stuff, but I was very intent on getting this review out, if only because my friend was so left-field of what I expected. (Then again, one of his previous suggestions was Macross Plus, which, I guess, maybe I owe him that, too.)

So I went into this movie not really knowing what to expect. I kind of already knew that Kevin Spacey’s character thought he was an alien, and I knew that Jeff Bridges played the skeptic caretaker of said character, but that was really all that I had to go on based on cryptic memories of trailers that aired on TV long ago. Turns out, my memory has served me relatively well — Spacey does, indeed, play a perceived psychotic who shows up out of nowhere claiming to be a visitor from the planet K-PAX named “prot” (all lowercase in the novel), and Bridges plays a psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Powell, who is brought in to examine the specimen and figure out his true story, only to get sucked in and start wondering if he really is from another planet.

That’s really pretty much the set up of the film, and, really, that’s also pretty much all you get until halfway through. Essentially everyone sits around gawking at prot and discussing whether or not he’s off his rocker or not while prot mingles with the rest of the institutionalized people in the psych institute. While it’s understandable that these guys begin to see prot as their extraterrestrial savior, Dr. Powell begins to question himself (and those around him to follow suit) as prot begins to show signs of having actually come from another planet, such as being able to see in the ultraviolet spectrum and pinpointing the astrophysical evidence of his planet’s existence. Throw in a little family drama, some sentimentality as prot begins repairing Dr. Powell’s family, and, bam, you pretty much have yourself a movie — a very formulaic one, but a movie nonetheless.

The film does begin to get interesting, however, when more and more of prot’s history comes into question and it seems as though there may actually be a logical explanation for what became of him. The scenes, which involve hypnotism, are pretty hokey, to be quite honest, but they’re intriguing enough and the performances of Bridges and Spacey are competent enough, even with weak material, to capture audiences’ attentions and reel them in. The twist, as it turns out, actually adds quite a bit of depth to prot and the emotional impact of its revelation is notable. It just really sucks that they had to go and throw in one too many dashes of sentimentality, however, as the power of prot’s past is ultimately undone by the story’s desire to remain ambiguous about prot’s true origins.

[SPOILERS] This is where my friend and I surprisingly diverge, as the film relies upon one’s acceptance of sci-fi elements to be satisfied with the ending. What’s funny is that, unlike him, I really, really hated that the sci-fi angle was so in tact by the end. That it turns out that prot was possibly just occupying the body of a man whose wife and daughter were raped and murdered strikes me as contrived and trite. [END MAJOR SPOILERS] Had they actually left the character dealing with the hurt and anguish of a past that he sought to run away from, we could have had a film that, though flawed, had a hint of boldness in showing that even though terrible things often happen, and we can’t just check out and ignore our existence. By allowing that prot really may have been an alien being, however, K-PAX ultimately just comes off feeling like a pseudo-intellectual/spiritual adult spin on E.T.

I didn’t hate K-PAX, but I didn’t particularly like it, either. Apart from some decent performances from its two main stars, the film has a plot that features a forgettable build up to a revelation that is ultimately ruined by its ending. It didn’t leave me feeling any better or worse than I did before, but I also could have totally lived without seeing it had I been left to continue to forget its existence. But, ultimately, what I did gain from this film is that friends, no matter how much you know them, can really surprise you if you prod them just enough to get deeper into their interests. I still don’t know why the heck my friend liked this film enough to make this his first non-anime-miniseries suggestion to me, but it does at least show a side of him that I never really knew was there or not. I guess K-PAX has some value after all, then.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5



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