K-PAX Movie Review
So the genre we're talking about in the case of K-PAX: A crazy man thinks he's an alien (a psychic, a king, etc.). The obvious question: Which is he: crazy, or an alien, or both? (A crazy alien, now that would be a fun twist on the whole genre wouldn't it?)
Kevin Spacey, one of the better actors around today (going almost the entire movie in sunglasses; who came up with that one?), stars as Prot, a man who claims to be an alien from the titular planet, K-PAX. In the opening scene of the movie, Spacey's character is questioned by the police and subsequently hauled off to the loony bin, apparently because he provides cryptic answers to questions and won't take off his shades. He spends most of the rest of the movie in the mental hospital interacting with the various stock neurotics, psychotics, and such, while slowly convincing his overworked and generally unhappy (of course) psychiatrist (Jeff Bridges, who played the alien-on-earth before in 1984's Starman) that he may in fact be an alien.
The performances in the film are serviceable, though Spacey has surprisingly little to work with despite the fact that he is supposed to be an alien and all. The movie (based on a book of the same title) does at least gain some points for creating a slightly new version of the 21st century alien: new idiosyncrasies like a hyper-sensitivity to light (the sunglasses, get it?) and a new homeland with some well-defined characteristics and customs. But in the end, K-PAX never really comes through with a payoff.
K-PAX is a one trick pony disguised as a full-on drama. It pins all its hopes on creating tension and building to a climax as we try to discover who this man really is, but that buildup is continually impeded by the various genre cliches thrown in the way. Spacey has to help Bridges overcome his family problems. We have to get introduced to a variety of mental patients that suddenly become curable. We have to get a few well-spaced lessons on what is so barbaric/sublime about humanity. Geez, Spacey's last movie (Pay It Forward) suffered from the same mistakes.
In the end, when the movie tries to deliver a climax relating to the big question of Is He or Isn't He, it comes through as rushed and somewhat anticlimactic. Had the filmmakers bypassed the obligatory themes and drilled down on the big question of who this man was and how he got here, the film would have had a lot more to say. In the end, the conclusion raises more questions than it answers, and from all appearances, they might have been the most interesting questions of the movie. As it stands, K-PAX is simply another benign depiction of what aliens might be like, and a reminder that they are, of course, much more intelligent than we are.
I can see, mammy!