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
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