“Patient 287, calls himself ‘Prot.’ Delusional—but remarkably consistent in his details of visiting from a planet called ‘K-PAX.’” Kevin Spacey stars as Prot, a highly intelligent and inexplicable being who, in the beginning of the movie, arrives at Grand Central Station in a beam of light. He is immediately taken into custody by the police, because he seems to be a few watts short. Once he is moved to the Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital the doctors on staff note that he has no response to large doses of Thorazine, a potent psychiatric drug, and possesses the inhuman ability to detect ultraviolet light. Prot also catches the attention of the staff when his interactions with the patients prove more beneficial than those of the doctors themselves.
In his sessions with Dr. Powell (Jeff Bridges), he eats bananas with the peel on, explains light travel, and describes at length his home galaxy (which is virtually unknown to humankind). The plot takes a turn when Prot reveals to Dr. Powell that he will be returning to K-PAX in a few weeks. Dr. Powell, who doesn’t believe Prot’s story, feels he must save Prot from himself.
Dr. Powell becomes entirely too involved in the identity of his patient. As a result, he becomes even less involved in the life of his family. Other notable actors include Alfre Woodard as the director of the psychiatric hospital, and Mary McCormack, as Dr. Powell’s wife.
Despite the slow down in the story line during the last twenty minutes, K-PAX delivers as a feel-good movie, providing laughs and numerous questions about who, or perhaps what, Prot really is. Viewers will undoubtedly be disappointed in the ending, as it leaves too much to the imagination, as well as several looming questions about morality and human suffering.
All told, there is no real lesson learned.
In all of these ways K-PAX is comparable to Pay it Forward, last year’s attempt by Spacey at an insightful feel-good movie, which similarly disappointed critics and viewers.
K-PAX cannot expect any Oscar nods, not even for Spacey, a two time Oscar winner (best supporting actor, The Usual Suspects; best actor, American Beauty). He does, however, give a great performance full of his trademark wryness and wit. Bridges’ performance in this movie meets with his usual low standard of acting. He tends to be unresponsive and his characterization lacks depth.
K-PAX can also be credited with excellent cinematography— the repeated use of light is striking. Reflecting through prisms and off the outside windows of buildings, light plays a large part in the movie because it not only catches the viewer’s attention visually, it also is frequently a topic of discussion by the characters. Light plays an integral part in the lives of K-PAXians as it is an efficient energy source as well as a means of travel. Symbolically, though not cleverly, light is used to represent the intelligence of Prot (and other K-PAXians) and his moral and intellectual sophistication over humans.
If you are a sentimentalist, or a devout follower of Spacey’s, I recommend K-PAX heartily. Ebert and Roeper gave it two thumbs up, but honestly this is one of those movies you can wait to rent on DVD.