This is London April 11, 2002
Spacey looks lost on planet earth by Alexander Walker
Some films, when you’re watching them, keep you thinking only of other films. Better ones, generally. Such is K-Pax, British director Iain Softley’s first Hollywood movie. It reminded me of a) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – the crazies are saner than the rest of us; b) Starman – an entity arrives on Earth claiming to have space-travelled from outside our solar system; c) A Beautiful Mind – a disturbed individual dazzles the scientists with Einstein-busting science; and d) any of many films in which a mystery man with occult propensities drops in and changes people’s lives for the better.
That’s a lot of borrowed luggage for even Kevin Spacey to tote around. And he makes heavy work of it, I’m afraid.
He plays a homeless guy arrested at Grand Central Station in a very unconvincing pre-credits sequence, and (even less likely) is referred to a swish Manhattan psychiatric unit for treatment by Jeff Bridges’s shrink. He claims to come from planet K-Pax and to be just visiting with the Earthlings. “I’m not going to leap out of your chest,” he reassures the good doc. Obviously K-Pax receives the Movie Channel.
Soon Prot, as he calls himself, is turning the tables on the man of medicine, giving hope to the hard cases back at the asylum, where one old dame who drools of “gentleman callers” has presumably OD’d on Tennessee Williams, and a folksier fellow has missed out on the Maurice Maeterlinck cure for depression until Prot sets him to watch for the Blue Bird of Happiness. Moving into higher IQ mode, he then dumbfounds a cluster of astronomers, indulges a homelier vein of wisdom by translating animal talk to Dr Dolittle standards, and finally plays agony uncle to Bridges by advising him to make it up with his estranged son, since “you’re doomed to repeat life over and over again – so get it right, first time”.
Is Prot really an alien, or is there a rational explanation? This being a Hollywood movie, both apply: which permits Roswell Incident nuts to go on believing in astral visitants and film critics to opt for the cop-out theory of upbeat endings. Either way, it compels Spacey to punch well below his dramatic weight. He spends much of the time speaking with the polite detachment of HAL 9000, or else in narcosis, hypnosis or a catatonic trance. None of these states is helpful for acting.
It makes one worry about Mr Spacey’s choice – or his agent’s – of his recent roles. In his last three films (Ordinary Decent Criminal, Pay It Forward and The Shipping News) he’s been socially miscast, dramatically undercast or temperamentally overcast. Here he’s simply an outcast, the centre of attention all right, yet fatally detached from it in a story without momentum to drive it, save for Prot’s deadline for beaming himself up to planet K-Pax again.
Bridges’s role is more interactive; but then he exhausted the potential of Spacey’s role when he played its more naive equivalent as the Earth-bound alien in Starman, landing with a bump, naked, on Karen Allen’s hearth-rug.
K-PAX review US Weekly Imagine Mork & Mindy: The Movie, with Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges subbing for Robin Williams and Pam Dawber, and you’ll get a good idea of what to expect from K-PAX. Well, not entirely – Bridges plays an uptight shrink named Mark Powell who’s more baffled than charmed by alleged alien Prot (Spacey). A drifter who seemingly materialized out of nowhere in Grand Central Station, Prot (long o, as in “prototype”) claims to hail from K-PAX, a planet a thousand light-years from Earth, and can seeminly support his story with detailed astronomical knowledge. Prot soon winds up under Powell’s care in a psych ward full of cuddly mental-patient stereotypes, whom he helps in ways the doctors can’t. K-PAX wants to be a thoughtful feel-good movie, but its mechanical approach strands Bridges in the role of a colorless Scrooge and makes Spacey’s performance, the one real bright spot, feel strangely out of place. Spacey puts a cucumber-cool spin on the cliche of the patient more sane than those treating him, and the movie’s attempt to have it both ways when resolving the mystery of Prot’s origins is a frustrating wate of his – and our – time. Spacey’s wacky alien bit is less a re-creation of Mork than a reinterpretation, but the actor’s fame gift for impressions doesn’t go completely untapped – deliberately or not, the voice of Prot under hypnosis is one of the best Marlon Brandos you will ever hear. ** – Annoyingly alienating
K-PAX Howard County Times
November 1, 2001 Geoffrey Himes Kevin Spacey is immensely appealing as a not-quite-normal man who may or may not be an extraterrestrial visitor, and Jeff Bridges is terrific as the straight-man-psychiatrist who treats him. Unfortunately, the film surrounding them is filled with plot inconsistencies, sentimentality about mental patients and wooden dialogue. Grade C+.
Around Town WETA CH 26 Washington, D.C.
Thursday, October 25, 2001
ROBERT AUBRY DAVIS: BASED ON THE 1995 GENE BREWER NOVEL OF THE SAME NAME, “K-PAX” STARS KEVIN SPACEY AS PROT, A MYSTERIOUS NEW PATIENT AT A MENTAL HOSPITAL WHO CLAIMS TO HAVE COME FROM A DISTANT PLANET. AS HIS PSYCHIATRIST, PLAYED BY JEFF BRIDGES, TRIES TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO HELP HIM, THE DOCTOR GRADUALLY BEGINS TO REALIZE THE SO-CALLED ALIEN IS HAVING A REMARKABLE EFFECT ON THE HOSPITAL’S OTHER PATIENTS. IN THIS SCENE THE DOCTOR AND HIS NEW PATIENT MEET FOR THE FIRST TIME:
ROBERT AUBRY DAVIS: Jane, I loved this movie. You didn’t like it so much. What’s wrong with it, what’s wrong with me in that case?
JANE HORWITZ: I didn’t hate the movie. I really liked the performances very much. But the movie, for me, is an awkward mix of science fiction and psycho-melodrama. Much more for the treacly sentiment in the second half, to the point that the science fiction element of it really goes by the wayside and I found it very unsatisfactory and I don’t like it when the wheels are showing and I can tell when I’m being told it’s time to cry.
ROBERT AUBRY DAVIS: I walked away from it feeling like it was very good science fiction. You could put the psychological analysis on, but it comes off —
JANE HORWITZ: The ending is so — I don’t want to give anything away. You’ve read the book. It’s unsatisfactory. The movie can’t seem to decide how cosmically mystical it’s going to be.
JOE BARBER: But I think that’s the reason it works. Because in movies like this and for example, STAR MAN, the one that Jeff Bridges starred in and won an Oscar nomination for, you’re always presented with this overwhelming arc of things that this person from another planet does that almost forces you into a corner and says, you’ve got to believe he’s from someplace else.
This movie presents you with both that and a plausible explanation for his background and leaves it up to you to decide what you want to believe. And that’s why I like it so much.
ROBERT AUBRY DAVIS: Bob, you’re a resident curmudgeon, what did you think?
BOB MONDELLO: Really? See, I think of myself as absolutely loving a lot of very simpering, sweet things. And this one just sort of rubbed me the wrong way. And for the first hour, I thought it was actually kind of fun when we were trying to figure him out.
At some point the film maker has to decide whether he’s actually from K-Pax or he’s very disturbed. And it’s all wrapped up in that.
PETER FAY: We have such a cinema vocabulary for this kind of story.
ROBERT AUBRY DAVIS: ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH.
JOE BARBER: And KING OF HEARTS.
PETER FAY: Since there is this vocabulary, any filmmaker has to decide am I telling it as well or better or is something I’m telling about so much different. And my feeling is that any movie that wants to telegraph me a message ought to use Western Union. The other thing I want to say is that an allegory is a fine thing, except I don’t think this reaches that level.
JANE HORWITZ: There are two movies that are out now, this and LIFE AS A HOUSE, which is another big fat metaphor. It’s about a man whose life is a mess and he puts it all in order by taking a shack and turning it into a nice house.
Also very good casts, giving very nice performances in both cases, but also both movies for me opt for the treacly thing toward the end. They go Hollywood.
JOE BARBER: This and LIFE AS A HOUSE is the kind of movie that Hollywood thinks people really want to see. They need comfort food at the movies and this is it.
ROBERT AUBRY DAVIS: “K-PAX ” OPENS IN AREA THEATERS THIS WEEKEND.
End of K-PAX portion of transcript.
Copyright © GWETA. All Rights Reserved. ~
‘K-Pax’: Sorting Out a Topsy-Turvy Universe By Rita Kempley Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, October 26, 2001
You meet the nicest people in Hollywood’s mental hospitals now that Nurse Ratched no longer serves the Thorazine cocktails. The doctors are caring, the inmates are quirky and the wards bespeak feng shui.
Such is the case in the fanciful “K-Pax,” a provocative if simplistic parable on the familiar foibles of humankind. Of course it’s easy to look down your nose at Earth if, like Prot (the splendid Kevin Spacey), you come from a world as evolved as the planet K-Pax.
The movies keep telling us what a lamentable species we are, and there has been no shortage of galactic do-gooders ready to drop down and show us the way: “The Brother From Another Planet,” “Starman” and everyone’s favorite rubber redeemer, “E.T.” The twist is that Prot, while convincing, might not be an alien at all. He may have toppled from a cuckoo’s nest.
The film opens with a mugging in Grand Central Station. Prot appears out of nowhere to help the victim and is mistaken for the perp. He tells his story to the NYPD. Naturally they think he’s mad and ship him off to a public hospital that looks more like a rehab center for strung-out movie stars.
Prot winds up under the care of the weary but avuncular Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). The seasoned psychiatrist fields the hospital’s most difficult cases, most of whom seem to be delightful delusionals. Yet even he is challenged by Prot’s elaborate masquerade — or is it?
While initially certain that his patient is faking, Powell is so impressed with Prot’s scientific prowess that he puts the K-Paxian’s claims to a group of skeptical astronomers. They are astounded to discover that Prot’s knowledge of the cosmos not only equals but surpasses their own.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, the most intractable patients begin to recover thanks to Prot, whose simple methods eliminate the need for mind-altering drugs and decades of psychoanalysis. Powell, who has begun to doubt his own reality, says it is his job to cure his patients. “Then why don’t you?” asks Prot.
Even though that comeback is expected, it gets a laugh and no doubt the approval of those who buy into the romantic belief that the sane are locked up while the real lunatics wear the white coats. That has been proved true in many cases, but emotionally stable movie psychiatrists seem far rarer than in real life.
Powell is something of an exception, though he does need to spend more time with his family and reconnect with his alienated son. The doctor’s wife complains to Prot and, like the patients on the ward, Powell begins to respond to his benign influence, finally realizing that he, too, is light-years from his “home.” Guess the doctor missed “E.T.”
“K-Pax” recalls many other films, “The Fisher King” foremost among them. That movie also starred Bridges, but Robin Williams was the crazy homeless one. That movie dealt with weighty social issues and was grounded in the real world. “K-Pax” just thinks it has something profound to say about the human condition.
Primarily, it’s a warm, fuzzy and funny duet between Spacey and Bridges, one that brings to mind the interplay between Spock and Kirk. The picture never quite reaches the stars, but it definitely rises above much of what passes for entertainment today.
K-Pax (121 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for violent images, language and sensuality.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company ~
A Disappointing Journey to ‘K-PAX’
By Desson Howe Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, October 26, 2001
“K-PAX” is entertaining for so long it’s a downer to sit through the dumbed-down finale. You know, the part where the movie completely unravels and “explains” its mysteries.
We can’t have moviegoers leaving the theater – or turning off their VCRs next year – with unanswered questions cluttering their brains, can we?
But in its better, pre-doofus section, “K-PAX” is an enthralling showcase for Kevin Spacey, who plays Prot, the stranger at the center of the story.
Probably Hollywood’s most exciting male actor at the moment, Spacey is someone you enjoy watching, period. His facial expressions, vocal tone, movement, they’re pleasures unto themselves. And he lures you into his intriguing maze of a character.
Prot is an intelligent, identity-free drifter with sunglasses and a thousand-yard stare. He comes to the attention of psychiatrist Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) when he’s labeled delusional.
It seems that, after being arrested at Grand Central Station for a mugging he didn’t commit, Prot (as he calls himself), has informed New York authorities that he’s from a planet called K-PAX.
Mark begins his examination with his usual dutiful approach. But Prot has a plausible answer for everything – plausible for a true resident of the purported K-PAX. He knows intricate details about his planet and its solar system that only the smartest scientists could appreciate. And he’s got some pretty advanced pointers about traveling faster than the speed of light. When Mark parades him before a gaggle of astrophysicists, Prot’s story seems to check out.
The psychiatrist has to deal with the distinct possibility that Prot is exactly who he says he is.
There’s more of this stuff, but “K-PAX” is about the slow peeling of layers that leads to the truth. Screenwriter Charles Leavitt and British director Iain Softley do a great job of modulating the atmospherics and fueling our interest.
Yet, even as they build and sustain a juicy premise, they fall prey (unconsciously or not) to the institutional tyranny of Hollywood storytelling. Mark could be any Michael Douglas character: He isn’t listening to his patients. He’s not finding time for his wife and family. You know, the usual Redemption of the Yuppie story. And, frankly, we could have done without Prot’s X-ray ability to see who’s peeping at him through the two-way observation mirror.
The worst, of course, is when the inexplicable gets its paint-by-numbers explanation. Ooooh, so that’s what this was all about, we’re supposed to mumble. But instead of elation, we leave with the disappointment that comes after our fancies have been tickled, but then unceremoniously let down.
K-PAX (PG-13, 122 minutes) – Contains violent images, some sensuality and obscene language. Area theaters.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
The Family Filmgoer
K-PAX (PG-13, 122 minutes)
An uneasy blend of science fiction and melodrama, “K-PAX” (based on the novel by Gene Brewer) is saved from its scripted bathos by stars Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges, who give gripping but modulated performances. Teens who appreciate subtle character-driven yarns could get caught up in this one. The PG-13 edges briefly R-ward with nightmarish flashbacks to a vicious crime and a suicide attempt. Milder ingredients include a verbal description of slaughtering cattle, profanity and mild sexual innuendo.
Spacey plays a likable odd duck named Prot, who claims he’s visiting from the planet K-PAX, 1,000 light-years away. Police pick him up and he’s committed to a private hospital, where a workaholic psychiatrist (Bridges) determines to learn the traumatic source of his disconnect. The cosmic mystery — why Prot knows so much astronomy — takes a back seat.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
‘K-PAX’ too outer Spacey
By Gary Arnold The Washington Times
Hollywood multiculturalism makes ample room for extraterrestrials as a sacred-cow constituency. The polemical-inspirational groaner “K-Pax” exemplifies this bias. It embraces Kevin Spacey in the alternately smug and suffering role of a sagacious redeemer who calls himself Prot, presumably short for Protean, and claims to be a bemused visitor from a distant planet, K-Pax. Lest the filmmakers be mistaken for total fantasists, the benign oddness of Prot has a down-to-earth, poignantly clinical explanation. The homeless man who would be a distinguished alien is actually a wandering delusional named Robert Porter who abandoned his home in the Southwest after a tragedy and eventually reached New York City. Prot flourishes when he is placed under the care of psychiatrist Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) at a rather nonchalant asylum. The other patients warm to him so promptly that they regard him as a godsend and K-Pax as their ultimate spiritual haven. Powell, having conducted a trio of hypnosis sessions with Prot, follows an Internet search to New Mexico to track down the Porter tale of woe, not even stopping to change out of his consulting-room wardrobe. Despite being a man of science, the sympathetic shrink cannot totally dismiss the possibility of supernatural and divine powers in his elusive patient. Knowing Prot also impels Powell to start mending a broken emotional fence in his own family. One gathers he will always cherish Prot as “the most convincing delusional I ever came across.” High praise, indeed, in a Hollywood context.
The problem with “K-Pax” is that Prot’s sanctimonious tendencies approach the insufferable when confined to a would-be-realistic setting. The movie assumes a simple-minded identification with Prot’s superiority complex. There’s an awful lot of Mr. Spacey making tsk-tsk gestures while purring such lines as, “You humans ” or “Doctor, patient, a curious human distinction.” Prot reflects a far from discriminating or consistent outlook on the part of screenwriter Charles Leavitt and director Iain Softley in adapting a novel by Gene Brewer. They amusedly ascribe crackpot ideas about sex and politics to the supposedly lofty K-Paxians. Pressing their luck, they venture into superficial theological waters and sink like ignominious rocks. If your designated know-it-all is going to single out Christianity and Buddhism for scorn, hypocrisy is likely to be charged when you surround him with Christian symbolism to illustrate intimations of divinity. Resurrection and baptismal imagery begin to proliferate so rashly in “K-Pax” that one would think Mr. Softley had invented them and could not resist gushing about his singular revelation.
The hypnosis sequences tend to date the movie in a peculiar way. They recall the entire generation or more in which theater and movie people were convinced that every hypnsis would yield a stunning dramatic breakthrough. The technique, streamlined for stage or screen, guaranteed breakthroughs for trusting and expedient dramatists time after time.
“K-Pax” is as quaintly trusting as “Spellbound” or “The Three Faces of Eve” or “Freud,” but, of course, it wants to pretend to believe in the worst way.
© 2001 News World Communications, Inc.
And also by Gary Arnold: Washington Weekend – Openings K-Pax (2001) (PG-13: Occasional profanity and graphic violence in a sometimes supernatural context) —*1/2. An inspirational groaner in which Kevin Spacey is meant to tickle the fancy and perhaps the tear ducts as a wandering delusional who claims to be a bemused observer from a distant planet, K-Pax. Calling himself Prot, presumably short for Protean, this alternately smug and suffering redeemer seems to appear out of nowhere in a beam of light at Grand Central Station. Since he resembles a lost soul, police pick him up and entrust him to a psychiatric hospital. In that environment Prot inevitably recalls McMurphy of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” He fences with shrink Jeff Bridges in metaphysical conversations and arouses hope in the other patients, who come to regard K-Pax as a spiritual home. Meanwhile, director Iain Softley pretends to reserve judgment on the ho-hum “Is Prot a guy or an alien?” question, despite drenching his mystery man in Christ symbolism at every opportunity. The coyness of it all may seem maddening if you aren’t in a receptive mood.
– 2001 News World Communications, Inc. ~
‘K-PAX’ sounds holier-than-thou
Review: Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges shine much brighter than the material they’re working with.
By Michael Sragow Sun Movie Critic
October 26, 2001
The casting in K-PAX is canny, but the picture as a whole is a clunky mix of the canny and the would-be uncanny. A trick character like “prot” (pronounced “prote”), a spookily even-keeled figure who says he’s from the planet K-PAX a thousand light years from Earth, cries out for an actor like Kevin Spacey, who can detonate the latent wit in any murky line or bit of action. And you couldn’t do better than Jeff Bridges for the dogged Manhattan psychiatrist shaken by prot’s claims but intent on debunking prot’s story. These two gifted fellows and their director, Iain Softley (Backbeat, The Wings of the Dove), make you wish that K-PAX would be more than the tale of a misfit who brings wisdom and light to a psychiatric hospital. No such luck. Because of its suicidal determination to play the action for fantasy and realism, and its final descent into bathos, K-PAX dashes our hopes. It sounds like an over-the-counter digestion aid. It works like an emotional laxative.
We root for the good parts to last longer than a sitcom episode partly because prot’s descriptions of home are so jarring and original, so ascetic and outlandish. Sex on K-PAX is painful, odorous, nauseating. Family values are non-existent – it takes a planet to raise K-PAX’s children. So daily life on K-PAX comes off as a prepubescent intellectual’s dream of following carefree pursuits in a healthy vegetarian environment. We wonder: Will the K in K-PAX stand for Kitsch? That would be a nice twist on American movies’ usual veneration of smart-aleck aliens. Hidden behind dark glasses because of prot’s ultra-sensitivity to our sun, Spacey wears a hipster’s deadpan and adds just the slightest hints of a smile or a laugh. He makes prot’s offhand omniscience come off as a parody of a holier-than-thou attitude – or a holier-than-thou attitude magically rid of its superiority. Because Spacey’s prot wears his knowledge so lightly, he makes Bridges’ earnest, glowering shrink all the more sympathetic: an underdog with the upper hand and advanced degrees. And few directors are more aptly named than Softley, who has a velvet touch; his subtle otherworldly lighting backs Spacey’s preternatural calm and brings a humorous undercurrent to the opening action. But the pieces of the picture add up in the worst possible ways.
As prot begins to heal and uplift his fellow patients with unconvincingly effective gimmicks, he comes off as a kind of beatnik monk, with the moral authority to lecture the doctor – and the audience – on the loathsomeness of eye-for-an-eye morality and the failure of Christians and Buddhists to live up to the teaching of Christ and Buddha. The movie, so promising when satirical, begins to smell holier-than-all-of-thou. At the same time, Bridges becomes convinced that prot is a troubled earthling and that his descriptions of K-PAX are rooted in horrific traumas. The shrink also has a ruse or two up his sleeve, like inviting prot for a July 4 picnic so he can shake the alien’s view of family life. Along the way, the doctor learns he must be closer to his wife and family, including the oldest child he never sees – a son by his first wife. In the film’s most egregious instance of having things both ways, even prot, the a-familial K-PAXian, urges Bridges to be a better husband and dad. By the end, the film wants to salute prot for his cool empathy while reducing him to a basket case. It rationalizes his amazing knowledge of astronomy or his ability to talk to dogs simply by labeling him a savant. It doesn’t provide any down-to-earth explanation for how he floats into Grand Central Station on a beam of light, or leaves the psychiatric institution for three days without anybody seeing him get out.
Gene Brewer’s original book didn’t sink to movie-melodramatics like having the doctor fly out west to solve the mystery of prot’s origins by himself. And the novel’s first-person presentation, from the doctor’s point of view, keeps the story grounded in an open-minded skepticism. By contrast, screenwriter Charles Leavitt wants to provide skeptics and UFO believers alike with equal points of identification – right up to a conclusion that will satisfy only the suckers in both camps. Prot becomes the most self-sacrificial hero since Sydney Carton went to the gallows for his look-alike in A Tale of Two Cities. When he does, this tale of two planets sinks into a black hole of self-pity. Copyright (c) 2001, The Baltimore Sun Link to the article:
- SHOWBIZ October 26, 2001 K-Pax by Cody Clark In a nutshell… Shows signs of intelligent life Over a great deal of its 118-minute running time, K-PAX is not nearly as oppressively moralizing — some would call it “wholesomely uplifting” — as its marketers would have you believe. If you asked the writers of TV’s Touched by an Angel to tap out an episode of The X-Files, you might get something remarkably like this movie (the actual source is a 1995 novel by Gene Brewer). The mystery/sci-fi element of the plot is generally engrossing and sufficiently distracting to allow cynical viewers to tune out the latest intergalactic bulletin on the general brutality and cravenly limited perspective of humankind. Family man and hardworking headshrinker Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) has seen it all. Before entering his initial interview with Prot (Kevin Spacey), a vagrant detained in a New York subway terminal for claiming to be from another planet, Powell wearily cracks, “Who is it this time, Jesus Christ or Joan of Arc?” It’s the former, naturally enough — visitors who’ve come to invade, conquer, or dine out bring spaceships and superior numbers, and never hesitate to shoot first and ask questions later — though director Iain Softley and screenwriter Charles Leavitt agreeably soft-pedal the metaphor. Unless you’re watching for it, the scene in which Prot (sounded as “note”) confounds the learned elders in the temple may even slip by unrecognized. Prot, so he insists, has returned to Earth (he’s been here before) from K-PAX, a distance of 1,000 light years, to complete his observation of the predominant native species. He compiles his findings on a yellow legal pad and seems generally content to chill with the hospital’s collection of cinematically cutesy delusionals, compulsives, and phobes. Indeed, Prot brings them hope and healing, whenever he’s not passively resisting Dr. Powell’s efforts to fathom the roots of his delusion. Prot says he’s due back home on July 27, at 5:51 a.m., which conveniently intensifies (clock’s ticking!) Powell’s quest to figure out who he really is. Softley and Leavitt ultimately settle that question for us. But the solution we’re presented with is a clever one, and neatly structured enough that we have no trouble accepting that the ambiguity of the matter has been preserved from the point of view of the movie’s characters: They can only believe as they choose. Spacey and Bridges (who brilliantly played the other side of this coin in John Carpenter’s somewhat similar Starman) generally provide exactly the level of investment required for their characters to be convincing. Neither one showboats, and both make good use of the dry humor in Leavitt’s script. There are a few too many endings: A final voiceover from Spacey sledgehammers us with just the sort of heavy-handedly inspirational aside (couched in an annoyingly bogus sophistry) that the movie generally manages to sidestep. And certain of the supporting cast are criminally underutilized, particularly Alfre Woodard (as Powell’s boss) — this movie could have used a lot more of her always refreshing causticity. Still, there’s enough going on here that, were we able to train the Arecibo radio telescope on K-PAX, we might even find it to be emitting signs of intelligent life.
Copyright © 2001 ABC News Internet Ventures. All Rights Reserved.
‘K-Pax’ has otherworldly charm
by Paul Clinton CNN Reviewer (CNN) — Faith, science and tolerance are the topics explored in “K-Pax,” one of the best films of the year, starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. It’s worth noting that this has been a dismal year for movies so far, so the standards are quite low. But that said, this is a well-executed film that doesn’t fit any of Hollywood’s tried and true — and tired — formulas. It expects an intelligent audience, and allows viewers to come to their own conclusions. Spacey stars as Prot, a mild-mannered man arrested in Grand Central Station after he’s mistakenly thought to be involved in a mugging. When he calmly announces that the light on earth is much brighter than what he’s used to on his home planet of K-Pax, he’s sent to a psychiatrist at a local public hospital. Prot’s assigned to Dr. Mark Powell (Bridges), who thinks he’s just another delusional patient who’ll eventually respond to treatment and return to reality. But the mystery surrounding Prot is not that easily solved. In an extremely tranquil way, Prot explains to the doctor that he’s here on Earth conducting a fact-finding mission, and that he plans on returning to K-Pax — 1,000 light-years away — in just a few weeks. While the doctors struggle to explain Prot’s non-human response to medication and to light, his fellow patients have no such concerns. They believe, one and all, that Prot is from another planet and they want to go back there with him when he returns. Chaos is threatened as the patients all rally around Prot. If this is beginning to sound like a combination of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), and “Starman” (1984), which also starred Bridges, you’re on the right track. Events get more complicated as Prot explains how he uses light to travel as he lectures a group of skeptical astronomers with information regarding the mapping of the universe — information even they don’t have. Powell becomes consumed with this strange patient. It drives him mad that he can’t solve this case using standard medical techniques. He begins to question: Could Prot really be who he says he is? Of course, if that’s true, this man of science will have to question many of his most basic theories about life. At one point Powell says to Prot, “What would you say if I were to tell you that I believe you’re as human as I am?” “I would say you’re in need of a Thorazine drip, doctor,” Prot replies. As the date for Prot’s return looms nearer, Powell begins a desperate race to find Prot’s true identity — to save him from the mental destruction that will surely result when he finds out he can’t return because there is no K-Pax. Of course, there’s that other possibility. Prot could be exactly who he says he is, and the doctor, with all his scientific knowledge, could be wrong. Based on a 1995 novel by Gene Brewer, “K-Pax” has been adapted for the screen by Charles Leavitt with excellent results. This whimsical story could have easily been ludicrous in less talented hands, but Leavitt has carefully engineered a plot that steers carefully along the thin line between sanity and insanity, logic and fantasy. Spacey is without a doubt one of the greatest actors on this or any other planet. Without his abilities, this film could never have been made. His characterization of a man who goes against all conventional behavior simply because he believes in something when all others doubt him is brilliant. Think of Jimmy Stewart’s remarkable performance in “Harvey” in 1950. Once again, Spacey should dust off his tux, polish his dancing shoes and get ready for another date with Oscar — if not for this film, then perhaps for the much anticipated “Shipping News” coming out in December. Bridges is also outstanding in his performance as the frustrated psychiatrist trying to come to terms with the most confusing case he’s ever handled. Prot makes him question everything in his life, both professional and personal, and the good doctor’s inner conflict — against Prot’s inner calm — makes for great dramatic tension. Director Iain Softley (“Wings of the Dove,” 1997) maintains a somewhat surreal atmosphere of muted lighting and soft colors that lend themselves well to this strange journey of discovery. His casting is perfect right down to every extra on the screen. Inspirational and profoundly moving, “K-Pax” speaks of love and tolerance — perfect messages for our times. “K-Pax” opens nationwide on Friday and is rated “PG-13” with a running time of 84 minutes.
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Chicago Tribune K-PAX By Michael Wilmington
In “K-PAX,” a glossy fable about friendship and madness, Kevin Spacey plays a seemingly delusional man named Prot who claims to be a visitor from a distant planet, and Jeff Bridges plays his harried but compassionate psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Powell. You can’t imagine better actors for these parts, or better performances than Spacey and Bridges give. With their mutual gifts of rich spontaneity, unerring control and mastery of detail, they achieve a wondrously satisfying rapport on screen, and they’re also an uncannily good match of contrasting types. As Powell, Bridges has a weary, earthy, deeply human quality that exactly suggests the sort of overworked, skeptical but fundamentally decent man he’s playing: a staff psychiatrist at a public hospital that’s underfunded and overburdened.
And as Prot (pronounced “Proat”), the only name he goes by, Spacey has such a bemused, otherworldly, out-there quality that you can accept him either way: as a smart and unusually consistent madman, or as an extraterrestrial from the planet K-PAX — which is just the confusion the movie wants. We first see Spacey’s Prot, looking unshaven and beatific, at New York’s Grand Central Station, where he’s mistakenly arrested by the police when he strays too near a mugging and is then institutionalized for nothing more than his claim to be a space alien. In his sessions with Dr. Powell — where he convincingly describes the life and social mores of K-PAX, offers jaded reflections on the shortcomings of Earth and Earthlings, and indulges in his passion for apples, bananas and other fruits (devoured peel and all) — Prot becomes someone increasingly hard to discount or dismiss, even if Powell’s superior, Dr. Claudia Villars (Alfre Woodard), wants him to be drugged.
How, for example, could Prot possibly know the complex positions and orbits of his distant world, in a system only recently charted by astronomers? But then, why does he freak out when Powell takes him home to his wife, Rachel (Mary McCormack), for a family Fourth of July picnic and he gets accidentally doused with sprinkler water? Why does he promise all the other inmates a possible ride to K-PAX when he departs on schedule on July 27? Why does he regress to a distinctly human childhood and young manhood, instead of a K-PAXian one, when Powell puts him under hypnosis? Spacey and Bridges are so good — and so good together — that they keep the options and explanations open right up to the movie’s bittersweet end.
Unfortunately “K-PAX,” which is adapted from the 1995 novel by Gene Brewer, isn’t really worthy of these two superb actors and their yeoman collaboration — nor of the movie’s high production values and the luminous skill director Iain Softley (“Backbeat”) brings to almost every scene. It’s a highly derivative, not especially imaginative movie, with a good but pedestrian script by Charles Leavitt (“The Mighty”), and though it pleases you with its intelligence and craft, it almost never delights or surprises you — especially not if you’re familiar with the whole constellation of previous movies, like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “King of Hearts,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “The Brother From Another Planet,” “Starman” (where Bridges was the space guy) and especially the 1987 Argentine film “Man Facing Southeast” — from which K-PAX draws inspiration. Like most of those pictures, “K-PAX” plays with the notion that society itself is mad and that its madhouse denizens — or at least some of them — may be better and saner than their keepers.
In the ’60s, that was a battle cry; today it seems, sadly, more like a wistful curio from a dear, dead past. We’re prepared to believe on his first appearance that Prot really is from outer space — because Spacey is one actor who can manage to look as if he just ambled in from Mars or beyond, and because Bridges, as he becomes convinced by Prot’s story, projects such rationality and savvy that he shifts the audience’s perspective. Though screenwriter Leavitt draws the characters well and cleverly plants clues that will help explain the ending, he doesn’t bring any added dimensions. Prot can seem too smirkingly sardonic, Powell too world-weary. And the film doesn’t enliven the supporting cast of stolid medicos and cardboard loonies who surround Prot and Powell. The patients especially show this flaw.
The preening diva, the slob who says everyone stinks, the gentle follower (a part David Patrick Kelly almost pulls off), the fussers, feuders and obsessives: All Prot’s fellow inmates seem to have dropped down from some other world — the planet of movie insane-asylum cliches. Whatever else you can say about “K-PAX,” it certainly looks good. Director Softley has a style that’s one of the slickest and most visually sophisticated of all his contemporaries. In his best film, the 1997 pop-Henry James adaptation of “The Wings of the Dove,” he delights the eye; in his worst, the 1995 cyber-mess “Hackers,” he short-circuits the brain. “K-PAX,” his most mainstream movie, falls somewhere in between. The images are lustrous, the cutting is brisk and the acting of the two leads is right on the money. But the movie obviously strives for more: to create an air of magic and mystery, to serve as social criticism and to tap into the bottomless well of human feeling and anguish. It wants to transport us to another realm. If you just focus on Spacey and Bridges you might almost believe it takes us there. But, if you widen your vision to take in the world around them, the illusion dies. “K-PAX” stays Hollywood-manacled and earthbound.
Movie Review by Lisa Schwarzbaum Entertainment Weekly K-Pax
Kevin Spacey characters compose their faces with permanent half smiles, lips together, eyes unblinking. They speak in low, measured cadences. They’re provocatively calm, these seemingly mild masked men. But an exciting thrum of craziness vibrates just below their placid surfaces — in the taunting genius of ”The Usual Suspects”’ Verbal Kint, say, or the bland monstrousness of John Doe in ”Seven.” And while every Spacey man guards a secret, some psychological subterfuges are more interesting — and more suited to the actor’s performance style — than others: I’ll take Lester Burnham’s reckless, self-loathing suburban bust-up in ”American Beauty” over Eugene Simonet’s charred, self-pitying fear of intimacy in ”Pay It Forward” any day.
I’m not sure what to make of the confounding detachment from other human beings that Spacey personifies in K-PAX, a mystical, twistical psychological drama in the ”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” tradition of romanticizing the miraculous, charismatic, saintly insane. But something in the planets doesn’t align in the spaceman-or-madman conundrum the film poses. Here, the actor’s familiar, cragged visage is assigned to a sleepless, unshaven, maddeningly beatific being who calls himself Prot (rhymes with vote or goat), a stranger who is picked up in New York’s Grand Central Station at the scene of a mugging.
Confined to a public psychiatric hospital by a system that doesn’t know what to make of a polite, undiagnosable patient who says the light on Earth is far brighter than what he’s used to on his distant home planet of ”K-PAX,” Prot becomes the obsession of Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges), an established psychiatrist familiar with delusional Jesuses. Prot doesn’t fit the profile. He doesn’t destabilize even under the heaviest doses of psychotropic drugs, and he’s got an inexplicably brilliant grasp of astronomy, enough to impress top scientists.
Stuck in a mental ward with the usual psychiatric suspects — the obsessive-compulsive mouse (David Patrick Kelly), the Miss Havisham-ish old lady (Celia Weston), the germophobe (”Slam” poet Saul Williams) — none of whom have any problem with the notion that their new neighbor really is an extraterrestrial, Prot becomes their leader. He’s their therapist, their R.P. McMurphy, their freakin’ king of hearts. He cocks his head in birdlike gestures of curiosity; he traverses the halls of his asylum with childlike steps. He says there’s no such thing as family on K-PAX, yet he comforts, soothes, and unites his neighbors.
Prot also has a profound effect on Powell, who begins to doubt everything he knows about earthlings and aliens — the doctor barely noticing that his own distraction is taking a toll on his wife (Mary McCormack) and children. Is Prot a wounded angel, a blessed crazy, a mystical emissary, a guy in need of medication, or a true K-PAXian? Director Iain Softley (who created such Jamesian beauty in ”The Wings of the Dove”) and screenwriter Charles Leavitt (who did what he could with ”The Mighty”) work hard to blur the answers, sometimes literally blurring focus. Collaborating with painterly cinematographer John Mathieson (”Gladiator,” ”Hannibal”), Softley lingers on moments of otherworldly beauty and everyday activity on Earth, whether it’s a barbecue in Powell’s backyard or the rainbow refraction of light through crystal on the doctor’s desk.
Leavitt plays off against the visual gentleness with dialogue of snappish wit: ”Don’t worry, I’m not going to leap out of your chest,” Prot reassures Powell. ”Your produce alone has been worth the trip,” he announces, at one point ingesting a banana, peel and all. (For his part in an undershaped role, Bridges reacts by smiling back benignly, running his fingers through his fabulous Bridges-boy hair, and, as he pieces Prot’s puzzle together while losing track of the pieces of his own life, taking a lot of naps.) I rather like the whole mystic- crystal-revelations aspect of ”K-PAX,” and the idea that even a psychiatrist of Jeff Bridges’ handsome, American substantiality is open to notions of cosmic improbability. What bugs me, though — aside from my earthbound impatience with dramas that wax romantic about the nobility of insanity as the only sane reaction to a lousy world — is the earthbound path Spacey seems to be taking. First with ”Pay It Forward” and now with ”K-PAX,” he has chosen to squish his big, complex talent into safe-movie containers — into characters who are walking moral lessons, not just men (let alone slippery, cunning, deadly smart men who shouldn’t be let out of our sights).
There are scenes in ”K-PAX” when Spacey plays tired and vulnerable and Christlike — often in carefully decorated settings where the humans around him are sharing Kodak moments of togetherness. That’s very E.T. of him, but not what we need, not even in a Spacey extraterrestrial. What we want from him is a guy who will leap out of our chests, while appearing to be the nicest, calmest man on the planet. – Entertainment Weekly, November 2, 2001, Issue #623 – pages 45-46.
ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION October 26, 2001 A worn-out, warm ‘n’ cuddly movie by Eleanor Ringel Gillespie Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer ‘K-PAX’ Grade: C- The verdict: These looney tunes from Kevin Spacey have been heard before.
A rather nice cast has been assembled to watch Kevin Spacey do some showy stunt acting in “K-PAX.” Let’s hope they were well-paid. Spacey plays a guy named Prot (pronounced Prote), who claims to be from the planet K-PAX. He eats bananas with the skins on. He says he can talk to golden retrievers. He wears sunglasses all the time because, he says, “I’d forgotten your planet is really bright.” Not surprisingly, all this lands him in a New York mental hospital, where he’s assigned to Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges), a kindly workaholic who needs to spend more time with his family.
Powell initially thinks he’s nutty as a fruitcake, but he’s impressed by how detailed Prot’s delusion is. Powell is forced to take his patient more seriously when a panel of blue-ribbon astronomers is flummoxed by Prot’s knowledge of the solar system (the “Good Will Hunting” moment). Even so, Powell draws the line when Prot begins ministering to his fellow psychos, giving them tasks like looking for the bluebird of happiness.
We’ve seen these mental patients before, of course. They’re the same lovable one-quirk loonies who wandered through “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “King of Hearts” and countless other movies built around the “Who’s really mad here?” theme. So, could Prot actually be from another planet or is he simply a very human man in very deep pain? And what is madness in a mad world? And what the heck is “Cuckoo’s” Randle P. McMurphy doing these days anyway?
Ever since he won his best-actor Oscar for “American Beauty,” Spacey has seemed hellbent on showing us his warm ‘n’ cuddly side. First there was “Pay It Forward.” Now there’s “K-PAX.” Spacey is such an incredible actor that you can watch him do just about anything. But it’s painful to see him pandering to some perceived amplification of his on-screen persona. Certainly he’s entertaining as Prot. But the work itself is limited and lazy and repetitive. How many times can we watch him do that head tilt perfected by Bridges when he played an alien in “Starman?” Watching Bridges watch Spacey do Bridges is rather interesting. But it’s about all he has to do besides play straight man to Spacey’s spaceman, which mostly calls for 14 different variations on looking befuddled yet concerned.
Still, he brings a welcome audience-surrogate presence to the movie, playing Powell as someone who really does want to cure Prot, but also can’t entirely dismiss the notion that what he says may be true. Director Iain Softley has made some excellent movies — “The Wings of the Dove” immediately comes to mind. But in “K-PAX,” he seems subject to Spacey’s vanity production. He pretty much turns his camera on his star and lets things go at that. Spacey probably is a warm ‘n’ cuddly guy. And “K-PAX” is probably going to be very popular. But he’s also far better than this worn-out, warm ‘n’ cuddly movie.
© 2001 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Critics who almost liked the film can be found HERE.