There is a scene in K-PAX where a psychiatrist learns about the murder of a patient’s wife and daughter. After visiting the scene of the crime, he returns home only to realize he has been neglecting his own family. Through one man’s loss, another man finds redemption.
The point is not new. And neither is K-PAX, the story of a mental patient who claims to be from another planet and does a convincing job of making people believe him.
Just as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the central character is engaging and inspiring to the fellow patients, K-PAX is also trying to make a statement. The only problem is the statement isn’t as strong as the 1975-Oscar winner’s, nor does it garner a feature-length film. In fact, for all its dialogue centered on the lack of Earth’s humanity, K-PAX doesn’t really say that much.
That’s not to say Kevin Spacey’s enjoyable performance isn’t worth the price of the ticket alone, but rather, the simple message and confusing aspects hurt an otherwise promising piece of entertainment.
Spacey plays Prot (pronounced “Prote”), the mental patient who may have come from the titular planet by way of harnessing a positive beam of light. Throughout the film, director Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove) inserts images of light rays to make the statement that if light actually is beauty, then beauty constantly surrounds us. Light reflects off everything from New York City buildings to the prism paperweight on Dr. Mark Powell’s (Jeff Bridges) desk.
Dr. Powell, or Mark, as Prot calls him, doesn’t see the beauty and therefore cannot live a fulfilling life. Subplots involving Mark’s relationship with his estranged son and his workaholic nature affecting his marriage give Bridges more than just a straight-man role to Spacey’s zany Prot, but not much more.
Most of the action takes place in the mental ward where Mark is constantly trying to calm down the patients and the frenzy that Prot’s positive effect has on them. Here we meet the same stereotypical patients we also found in Cuckoo’s Nest: the obsessive-compulsive, hypochondriac, recluse, et al. While each actor does a fine job in his or her respective wacko role, none of them move beyond their place in an ensemble solely designed to give Prot toys with which to play.
The relationship between Mark and Prot is also strikingly similar to that of Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp in Don Juan DeMarco, complete with the psychiatrist believing the patient’s tale as well as committing the sin of getting too close to a patient. It’s possible that there are limited routes to take with these scenarios, but repeating such familiar formulas comes across as lazy when these actors deserve more.
And it is the performances that really become the only redeeming quality to this overly stylized, if not-too-ambitious film. Spacey makes Prot endearing while wandering in amazement at Earth’s beauty yet also makes him discerning when he lectures Mark about how humans take for granted all the life and possibilities on the planet.
K-PAX is also plagued with a ludicrous opening scene, which distracts the audience for the first 15 minutes with wondering why Prot was taken to the mental hospital in the first place.
But Prot’s extensive and supposedly rare knowledge about the solar system allows for further debate of “was he or wasn’t he actually from K-PAX?” as you walk out of the theater.
While K-PAX runs long and loses focus here and there, it still serves for passable entertainment thanks to Spacey and Bridges – even though they’re simply superimposed into the same story you’ve seen before.
- K-PAX is rated PG-13
- William Albritton can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org