REVIEWS by SULLYDOG

K-PAX
a film by Iain Softley
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodard, Aaron Paul, Mary McCormack Directed by: Iain Softley Produced by: Robert F. Colesberry, Susan G. Pollack, Michael Levy, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin Written by: Charles Leavitt, Bryan Goluboff Distributor: Universal Pictures.

You ever spend much time in a psychiatric unit? I have. It's my great good fortune to have a day job that puts me in constant contact with crazy people. I don't mean crazy like your sweet old Uncle Elmo who collects tampon applicators and makes doghouses out of them. I mean people who are sweet-Jesus-bugshit fucking nuts, people who aren't just eccentric but neurobiologically deranged, people who require professional care, soft lights, hard restraints and constant massage of their synapses with strong psychoactive materials. One thing I can tell you about these people is that they don't vote. Thanks to Bush's monster tax cut, which forced radical amputations in public spending, and thanks also to Michigan's corn-fed Republican Governor, John ("The Pig") Engler, most of the area's few remaining psychiatric hospitals will probably be closing soon. This means that not only will I get to spend more time in the ER with mentally ill people, but my neighbors will encounter more of them starving on the street, too. One of the few imaginable salutary effects of this impending human catastrophe will be that more folks will get to find out that real crazy people just aren't at all like the wonderfully warm and whacky psychiatric patients you see in movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and K-Pax.

K-Pax is set, for the most part, in the kind of state-of-the-art, high-tech, ultra clean and compassionate mental health hospital that will soon be going the way of the pyramid around here. This place is inhabited by lovably kooky human inmates and compassionate human staff, and also by one questionably human enigma: Prot.

Prot (Kevin Spacey) claims to be from the planet K-Pax, in the constellation Lira, where people have their shit together and nobody has a family. The light on Earth is a bit too bright for his eyes, so he always wears sunglasses. He likes fresh fruit. He's nice. But as we get to know him through his psychiatrist Dr. Powell (Jeff Bridges), we see that there's something very profound and very unsettling about Prot. Aside from claiming to be from another world, Prot doesn't seem to be crazy at all. In fact, he gives every indication of having a penetrating intellect and a pretty balanced outlook on life. And, oh yeah, he knows astrophysics, and helps the local eggheads solve a major new problem in stellar mechanics that most astronomers haven't even read about yet.

But as Dr. Powell digs deeper, he begins to get to the raw, exposed nerve in Prot's soul, and his search for the truth leads him on a rather implausible quest to discover the very human roots of Prot's personal tragedy. This movie is a mystery, and it's a real pleasure to watch Bridges struggle to unravel it. It's fine storytelling, and excellent filmaking. But, again, it's just a bit hard to swallow. Here's this psychiatrist, with hundreds of patients under his care, who flies to freakin' New Mexico to figure out why one nonviolent inmate thinks he's from Outer Space. But then, I guess the Good Doctor would have plenty of time on his hands, since all of his patients seem to be...well, not crazy. They're all colorful, to be sure. But believe me, I've evaluated a lot of desperately deranged people only to send them back into the street for lack of beds. As far as I could tell most of the characters in this movie don't need to be hospitalized.

Bridges gives the role of the concerned psychiatrist his all, but it's a fairly pedestrian gig for an actor of his incredible range. Spacey turns in a suitable performance as Prot, but there's something uncomfortably smug about him here. I couldn't get past the impression that Kevin Spacey, the actor, was dissing me and my planet.We know we suck, dude, but don't get too wrapped up in the messianic overtones of your character. You live here, too. Wipe that superior smirk off your face.

So...is Prot an alien? In a lesser movie, we'd get a firm yes-no answer. In K-Pax, we get a deliciously maddening superposition state. Prot has a picture in a high-school yearbook from New Mexico, near Roswell where he apparently used to live. But, uh, Prot also solves problems in orbital mechanics with a speed and ingenuity that makes human scientists all weak and trembly. There's evidence either way.

But don't work too hard at trying to figure it out. As The Pig would certainly tell us, mental illness is a highly relative thing, depending on the tax cut situation. Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether Prot's compelling story of K-Pax is any more "true" than the alternate history built up for him by his psychiatrist. What matters most is the healing relationship established between Prot and Dr. Powell.

But who's healing who?

Starman meets Cuckoo's Nest.

Sullydog Approves.

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