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K-PAX

by: Michael Dequina

The K-PAX of the eponymous film is, contrary to its sound, neither a television nor radio station. It's the distant planet from which a New York mental patient known only as Prot (Kevin Spacey) claims to be visiting. A two-time Oscar winner playing a crazy person in a big studio film released in late October. Can't you just smell the pretension? Probably not, given the other ways in which this film stinks.

Assigned to crack the mystery that is Prot is shrink Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). Mark is an ace at his job, but wait--could it be that this seemingly together crusader for mental health have some personal problems of his own? Why, indeed yes. While enjoying remarried life with the restless but understanding Rachel (Mary McCormack) and their two children, Mark has lost contact with his college-age son from his first marriage. Sounds like an ailment that a little prolonged contact with a delusional couldn't cure.

Fellow patients at the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan presumably have more severe illnesses and have been treated for long periods of time by the most highly trained professionals, yet Prot is able to break through to them in ways no one else had been able to in a matter of days. This development would have been more ludicrous had the patients on Prot's floor were portrayed as people with serious psychological problems, but in that sanitized Hollywood fashion everyone's genial and good-natured, burdened only by mild quirks in their personalities. One can easily imagine that if this film were to become a hit, next fall a spin-off sitcom called The K-PAX Kooks would hit the airwaves.

With Prot making life that much more enjoyable for anyone he meets, the big question remains: is he really an alien from K-PAX or just a really convincing delusional? Scripter Charles Leavitt and director Iain Softley chicken out and try to have it both ways, leaving a fair share of plotholes in the process. But the unsatisfying resolution doesn't come before slogging through the expected, would-be shocking revelations about Prot's past. The pop psychology of what's discovered would not be much of a surprise for anyone who's watched any television or movies.

Spacey shouldn't clear shelf space for that third statue just yet. To be fair, the embarrassing "eat the banana with the peel on" and the entire fruit fetish notwithstanding, Spacey is perfectly fine as Prot, if not exactly challenged; by now, he can do the droll, sarcastic bit while comatose. Bridges fares as well as his co-star though he's not given a whole lot to do outside of playing the straight man.

The title K-PAX bears a great similarity to the local Los Angeles television station KPXN channel 30, which is all too fitting. KPXN is an affiliate of Pax, the network that specializes in safe, inoffensive, family-friendly, and generally cornball programming such as Touched by an Angel reruns--in other words, the ideal future small-screen home for manufactured pap like K-PAX.

RATING: ** (out of *****)

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