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With: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodard, Mary McCormack
Written by: Charles Leavitt, based on the novel by Gene Brewer
Directed by: Iain Softley
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a sequence of violent images, and brief language and sensuality
Running Time: 120
Date: 03/18/2013

K-PAX (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Just O 'K'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A friendly, crazy guy claims to be an alien from the planet K-PAX. Hegets arrested, thrown into the psycho ward and makes everybody feelbetter about themselves.

That's basically the premise of the new sci-fi feel-good movie K-PAX, following the lead of the charming Don Juan DeMarco (1995), in which a friendly, crazy guy claims to be Don Juan DeMarco, and gets arrested, thrown into the psycho ward and makes everybody feel better about themselves.

In each case, a dowdy, bored psychiatrist takes the case and finds his flagging interest newly piqued by the charismatic patient. And in each case, the psychiatrist comes out a better man.

As directed by Iain Softley (Hackers, The Wings of the Dove), K-PAX tries to build a mystery over whether or not the alien is real, but drops too many clues. When Prot (Kevin Spacey) first lands, he appears suddenly in a beam of light. Later, he's able to track complex star systems too far away for our scientists to know anything about. He's also able to detect light waves far beyond our ordinary "Roy G. Biv" spectrum. (Softley gets a lot of mileage showing at least a dozen different angles of a prism in the psychiatrist's office.) Whether or not the movie decides that Prot is an alien (I'm not telling), these clues linger, unanswered.

Jeff Bridges plays Dr. Mark Powell, the shrink who takes on Prot's case and attempts to prove that he's really an earthman with a shady past. Prot announces that he'll be leaving earth at 5:51 a.m. on July 27, forcing Powell to solve the problem before then (the old-fashioned, never-fails, suspense generator).

Prot also announces that he'll be taking one person back to planet K-PAX with him, bringing up another mystery: who will he choose? The answer is hard to guess but doesn't seem to matter much when it comes.

K-PAX turns away from the Don Juan DeMarco formula when it spends a good deal of time on the usual bunch of movie "crazy" people as supporting characters, whose psychoses are easily definable and easily ridiculed. Of course, Prot manages to spend quality time with all of them and even "cure" some of them. In one insipid scene, a character spots "the bluebird of happiness" out the window and begins whispering -- then screaming -- "bluebird" over and over again until I wanted to vomit.

In addition, the great Alfre Woodard is all but wasted as the Voice of Reason at the psychiatry ward who continually and with the best intentions tries to sabotage Powell's efforts. And Mary McCormack can't flesh out the role of Powell's long-suffering wife who wonders why her husband can't pay more attention to her and the kids.

I can see why Kevin Spacey would latch onto the role of Prot (sounds like "vote"), the alien who gets to wear sunglasses throughout most of the movie because Earth's light is too bright for his eyes. He seems to be following a specific Jack Nicholson-like career path (hence the sunglasses), taking on roles he knows he can slam out of the park. The trouble is, that he's playing with a rookie pitcher on a smaller-than-regulation field. It's too easy for him.

So while you're enjoying watching Spacey doing what he does best, being cool and cocky, you wish he would do something more challenging where he could truly excel. It's hard not to think of Nicholson in his own psycho-ward movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or even Jeff Bridges' own turn as an alien in John Carpenter's amazing Starman. Nicholson and Bridges really stretched in those movies, but Spacey is content to relax and play his usual repertoire.

Nonetheless, Spacey at his normal level is already much higher than most actors, and it's extremely satisfying watching him here. Moreover, the always-underrated Bridges compliments him well. (It's too bad the movie couldn't have cut out all the dull supporting characters and concentrated on a two-man piece.)

Though people continue to make fun of Rodney King's impassioned plea, "why can't we all just get along?" K-PAX essentially asks the same question: "you humans -- sometimes it's hard to imagine how you've made it this far." It just sounds better when Spacey says it, I guess.

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