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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: K-PAX

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges
Director: Iain Softley
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Alfre Woodard, Mary McCormack, Brian Howe, Mary Mara, Aaron Paul, David Patrick Kelly

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2 stars out of 4

If you've seen the trailer for "K-PAX," you know the basic set-up. Psychiatrist Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) has a new patient at the mental hospital. Prot (Kevin Spacey) is a glib, charismatic fellow who claims to be an alien from the planet K-PAX. Prot wears sunglasses because the light on Earth is so bright. He eats bananas without peeling them ("Your produce alone has been worth the trip"), has inhuman reactions to certain medications and can understand what dogs think. He gives examples of guttural alien languages and is able to dazzle a group of astronomy experts with a drawing of the orbit of his planet ("1,000 of your light years away") that instantly explains key incongruities of that distant solar system.

He must be a real alien. But wait, there's no such thing as aliens, or at least not aliens that vacation in psych wards. His pronouncements pique the interest of Dr. Powell. When asked about relatives, Prot announces that on his home world,"family is a non sequitur," saying the words a little too quickly. Hmmm. Powell's alarm signals also go off when he hears of Prot's plan to return home on July 27. Could that date be significant? Perhaps the anniversary of some tragedy?

So is Prot an alien or a damaged human living in a remarkably detailed psychotic state? Or could there be a third explanation? It's all just an engaging mystery for us to ponder while silently thanking God that Kevin Spacey is playing Prot instead of Robin Williams, correct?

Not so fast.

I enjoy fantasies, futuristic stories and space operas as long as they adhere to an internal logic. I can accept the most outlandish scenarios, but the writer has a responsibility to maintain consistency within his newly created universe. When filmmakers violate the internal logic of their production, I'm ready to go after them with my phaser set on "flash-fry."

For example, the first Christopher Reeve "Superman" movie drove me crazy because of two things, one minor and one major. First, why didn't the planet Krypton have any chairs? We saw one massive set after another, without a single piece of furniture. The people there were bipeds just like us. Did they not sit? Did they not recline? And where did they put their bowls of salsa and chips at parties?

The second violation was far worse. At the end of the film, Superman, distraught over the death of Lois Lane, flies counter-orbit around the planet at super speed and goes back in time to arrive moments before the accident, and then saves Lois. Whaaaaaat? For decades, the rules of the Superman universe were clear: Yes, you can travel through time, but changing the past is impossible. The reasoning was solid. If Superman can alter history, then he becomes omnipotent and the potential for drama dissipates. Why shouldn't the Man of Steel go further back and spirit Pa Kent off to the doctor before he suffered a heart attack? Why not travel back and save Martin Luther King Jr. or the Kennedy boys? For the sake of a happy ending, the filmmakers threw internal logic out the window, ruining the film for me.

The team behind "K-PAX" has certain responsibilities to the viewer if they are to adhere to their internal logic. If Prot is really an alien capable of traveling by light to our planet, then why is he wasting time playing head games with shrinks and astronomers? And if he is human, then where did his inhuman responses to medications and wildly advanced astronomical knowledge come from?

I have another, more fundamental, objection. After getting arrested and carted off to Bellevue merely for mentioning his light-sensitive alien eyes (Like that would ever happen. Such a statement wouldn't get him busted in Palm Springs, let alone New York City, where facilities barely can function due to extreme overcrowding), he meets and almost immediately becomes the mentor of his fellow patients, who are presented as colorful eccentrics and lost children in adult bodies. The insistence of filmmakers to cruelly misrepresent our mentally ill brethren as little more than love starved Muppets does a disservice to real people suffering real pain.

And while I'm on a roll, here's a suggestion to all filmmakers: Don't hire Alfre Woodard and then stick her in some thankless supporting role. The woman is a treasure - give her a real part.

For the few of you who haven't dismissed me as an obsessive crank and moved on to another review, allow me to sum things up. Non-demanding viewers will likely decide that "K-PAX" is sluggish, but enjoyable light entertainment. Fans of the gifted Kevin Spacey and chronically under-appreciated Jeff Bridges should relish the opportunity to see how the actors approach the material. But if you're the kind of person that questions the fantastic and expects a story to respect its own logic, then you should take some aspirin before seeing this movie.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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