STARRING: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Mary McCormack, Alfre Woodard

2001, 120 Minutes, Directed by: Iain Softley

Description: Jeff Bridges plays Manhattan psychiatrist Mark Powell, who thinks he's seen it all until he's assigned to analyze Prot (Spacey), a psychiatric patient who claims to be from a distant planet called K-PAX. Powell is convinced that Prot is "a convincing delusional," but his cynicism turns to open-minded fascination as Prot's case reveals a combination of otherworldly insight and all-too-human trauma, prompting an earthbound explanation for Prot's allegedly alien origins.

K-Pax isn't as bad as it could have been, but that is, as you might have gathered, not quite an endorsement. It is the sort of material that Robin Williams goes for now that the former stand-up comic has decided that he is no longer funny, but serious instead.

The movie has a loveable holy fool type who thinks that he is an alien from a distant planet called K-Pax (hence the title). The "alien" (the movie never really resolves whether he is one or not) is immediately carted off to an insane asylum where he helps the mental patients. All the patients are the loveable eccentrics one usually finds in Hollywood flicks, not the seriously disturbed people that really inhabit such institutions. The loveable alien is assigned a shrink who at some point begins to believe that maybe the "alien" is, after all, an alien.

Along the way, K-Pax steals from a host of movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Patch Adams, Starman, Good Will Hunting, you name it. Ideal material in other words for Robin Williams, the man who gave us the schmaltz fests Bicentennial Man and What Dreams May Come (diabetics beware!). Except the movie stars Kevin Spacey (of American Beauty fame) as the "alien" and Jeff Bridges as the shrink.

Also, instead of Orchestra of a Thousand Strings musical score it has an understated chill-out techno-ish score. Furthermore, the director has included some interestingly original photography, all of them involving our perceptions of light. The cinematography is excellent. Both the principals give understated performances while the supporting cast is okay too.

The thing with K-Pax is that everyone did his or her best with the material. However, no matter how hard they worked they simply couldn't transcend the material: it remains a derivative piece of unabashed emotional manipulation. While one isn't always aware of this while watching the movie, K-Pax is a curiously flat affair. One is curiously detached and uninvolved while watching it. Maybe all that understatement did the movie in and what it really needed after all was a Thousand Strings . . .



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