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K-PAX (Oct. 25/01)

K-PAX is a gamble. In an age where cynicism and irony dominate, a movie like K-PAX could be perceived as maudlin and archaic. There are no overt images of violence, no sex scenes, and hardly any swearing. And once the credits roll, the general theme to be taken away from the movie is that the world is a noble place and worth fighting for. Pessimistic viewers need not apply; for the rest of us, K-PAX is a refreshingly uplifting story about the best of humanity.

Kevin Spacey stars as prot (the lower case "p" is intentional), a man who may or may not be from the planet K-PAX. He is found wandering Grand Central Station with nary a piece of I.D. on him, and is quickly taken to a mental hospital. He winds up in psychiatrist Jeff Bridges' care, and the two begin an odd relationship. In a variation on One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, prot finds himself amongst a quirky group of mental patients - including a fat guy that insists everyone stinks, a paranoid young man afraid of germs; pretty much who you'd expect in a film set in an institution - but the focus is on prot's relationship with the Bridges character. Bridges finds himself inexplicably drawn to the cause of helping prot, going so far as to take him to a planetarium to test out his knowledge of K-PAX. But as prot's date of departure approaches, Bridges must discover the truth about Prot before it's too late…

K-PAX takes the old fish-out-of-water structure, and manages to elevate it to a level where it becomes more than just a wacky comedy about a nutty space alien walking among us. The source material has a lot to do with it - it's based on a thoroughly involving novel by former psychiatrist Gene Brewer - but it's the two stars that make K-PAX eminently watchable. As prot, Spacey initially has nothing to do except marvel at the various Earth objects, but as the layers are peeled away (and as prot describes life on K-PAX), Spacey's performance really comes alive. His sense of wonder at even the smallest things - that line from the commercials, "your produce alone has been worth the trip," is a good example - is refreshing to watch (and yet again, stands as an example of why Spacey is one of the finest actors of his generation). Bridges is just as good (as usual) and for those of you concerned that his over-the-top histrionics as seen in the underrated Arlington Road was all he was capable of, check him out here. He doesn't even raise his voice.

K-PAX is not perfect by any means - some sequences are quite predictable (as when prot is able to help the one patient no one else has been able to) and certain elements don't really hold up after the movie has divulged all it's secrets - but it is just about the most enjoyable movie out there right now. Add to that two Oscar-worthy performances, and you've got a movie-going experience that's worth the exorbitantly high ticket prices.

out of

© David Nusair