"Look at me! I'm an Oscar contender!" screams "K-PAX" at almost every
turn, and at each of those turns comes another reason why the film
should be embarrassed for having such conceited awards aspirations.
Snooze-inducingly directed by Iain Softley (1997's "The Wings of the Dove"),
"K-PAX" is a sentimental, feel-good drama that is written by Charles
Leavitt (1998's "The Mighty") as if he's trying to beat out other
competing screenwriters for the chance to pen a hack sequel to "Good Will
Hunting." With heavy otherworldly overtones used to spice up the ho-hum
premise, watching the film offers a stunning example of how easy it can
be to acquire a strong cast to appear in a project that continuously
Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) is a workaholic at the Psychiatric Institute
of Manhattan who hardly has any time to spend with his long-suffering wife,
Rachel (Mary McCormack), and their two young daughters. His life is
changed, and for the better, with the admittance into the hospital of a
peculiar man who refuses to take off his sunglasses in the bright light.
He says his name is Prot (Kevin Spacey) and, while he is a gentle person,
adamantly claims to be an alien from a planet named K-PAX that is located
1000 light years away. Mark not only is deeply impacted by Prot, as are
the other patients at the institute, but also forms an unexplainable
bond with him. Through this friendship, Prot allows Mark to realize how
important his family is, and how neglectful he's recently been to them.
Based on the novel by Gene Brewer, "K-PAX" means well, but that's all it
means. Misguided on every level, whether it be the writing, acting,
directing, or storyline, through an odd twist of fate the movie was
greenlit before it seemingly was even thought out. Scene upon endless
scene is carried out in the same static manner, with doctor and patient
facing each other and talking about the planet Prot claims to be from,
and the differences in the way of life between his civilization and this
one. The dialogue exchanges aren't overtly bad, but they lack vitality
or energy, and the question of whether Prot is an alien or not is set
up as a major climactic twist that ends up feeling anticlimactic.
Kevin Spacey, who reached a career high with 1999's "American Beauty,"
dutifully plays Prot as a kind man/alien with a lot of eccentric behavior.
Nothing more is done with the part, really, despite some last-minute
character-deepening moments. Jeff Bridges (1999's "Arlington Road"),
another rightfully well-respected actor, has nothing to do as Dr. Mark
Powell, and that is quite an accomplishment considering he has the lead
role. Spacey and Bridges flounder with parts that no one, no matter how
good of a performer, could have fleshed out.
The moral of the story is supposed to revolve around how families shouldn't
be taken for granted, but there isn't a single gratifying scene between
Mark, Rachel, and his kids. The viewer never gets a sense of the
relationships between them, and director Softley's attempt at doing such
is half-hearted, at best. There are also two throwaway mentions of an
estranged grown son Mark had from a previous marriage, but it isn't
developed enough to act as the emotional catharsis the last scene is
supposed to be.
Mary McCormack (1999's "Mystery, Alaska") has the thankless role of Mark's
wife, Rachel, while great character actress Alfre Woodard (2000's "Lost
Souls") has obviously seen her third-billed appearance as Mark's disagreeing
colleague cut down in the editing room to what now amounts to an extended
cameo. Since Mark and Prot are not interesting individuals, there desperately
needed to be a strengthening of the supporting players, which there isn't.
Save for a brief sequence in which Elton John's "Rocket Man" cleverly plays
on the soundtrack, "K-PAX" is a promising motion picture gone terribly
awry. Elements of comedy, drama, tragedy, mystery, and sci-fi have been
blended together into a confused concoction that lacks magic, poignancy,
or urgency. It does, however, achieve boredom on more than a couple
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman