K-PAX (2001), Run-time 120mins, Cert 12.

Director - Ian Softley.

Writer - Charles Leavitt.

Starring - Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodard & Mary McCormack.


Premise - Through a coincidence a man (Kevin Spacey) is detained at Grand Central Station in New York by the police. When he proclaims to be Prot from the planet K-PAX he is admitted to a mental hospital for treatment. After 4 weeks of unsuccessful drug treatment he is handed over to Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) who takes great interest in Prot's story. Is Prot mad or is he really an alien?

K-PAX was a pleasant distraction for a couple of hours, but it falls far short of being a great film. It has much going for it, but also much going against it. Not a bad film, not a great film, just an alright film.

What it does have going for it is two excellent performances from the leads. Both Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are fine actors whom have done excellent work in the past. K-PAX is not the best film of either man, but they both do fine work. Kevin Spacey gives the flashier performance as the supposed alien Prot.

Although his appearance is no more out of the ordinary than a slightly dishevelled man wearing sunglasses, he still manages to come off as otherworldly through his speech pattern and mannerisms. Spacey is adept at playing characters who spin lies for fun (see: ‘The Usual Suspects’) and he seems completely at home with Prot. It’s certainly a sign that Spacey can still deliver the goods considering the poor choices he has made recently.

Jeff Bridges’ Dr. Powell is a character that has presumably done and seen it all in his field. He sees Prot, and what he says and he is immediately fascinated. Never before has he encountered a delusion quite as complex and at points he even finds himself asking if Prot might be telling the truth. Bridges has played the workaholic before (see: ‘Arlington Road’, ‘Blown Away’ & ‘The Fisher King’) and he has no trouble drawing on past experience to deliver the goods here.

The finest moments of the film occur in the opening half as Bridges and Spacey indulge in verbal sparring contests. Also good are scenes where Powell takes Prot outside of the hospital to try and break his psychosis. Firstly to an observatory where he makes a discovery that confounds the astrophysicists invited to meet him. And secondly when he is at Powell’s house for thanksgiving.

Spacey also has some good scenes with the other patients in the mental ward, but somebody must have been watching ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ on repeat, because these are some of the most clichéd mental patients to ever grace a cinematic mental hospital. The film has a bit of a religious undercurrent with Prot clearly made out to be something of a Jesus figure. The signs are pretty obvious from his sermons to Powell about his family to him helping the other patients ‘cure’ themselves.

Another cliché that hurts the film is the ever reliable movie maguffin of the troubled home life. It seems that every successful man who works late hours and takes their work home with them must have a family on the verge of collapse because of said work. It happens all the time to cops, doctors, TV personalities and fast food clerks in movies (well, maybe not the last one). It’s an old and very tired story mechanic and I’m sick of it. Why can’t the wives and families be supportive of the work? Sigh…..

The film also pretty much falls apart in the last third. We move from the intriguing one on one meetings between Prot and Powell to a series of dull hypnosis sessions. These scenes badly miss the charismatic work of Spacey as Prot and drag like nothing on earth (pun intended). Even worse is a later scene that sees Powell travel halfway across the US looking for some answers like a low rent MacGyver.

I was almost ready to give up on the film, but I really appreciated the ending. It doesn’t give you a straight answer to the main question the film raises, instead leaving you with enough clues to let the viewer make up his/her own mind. I’m always a fan of an ambiguous ending and the one in K-PAX pretty much saved the film for me.

As I said earlier, not a great film, but thanks to Bridges, Spacey and a nice ending it wasn’t a complete waste of my time either.



See K-PAX if you enjoyed – Starman, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Poster Quote – K-PAX phone home?