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[whitespace] 'K-Pax'
Photograph by Suzanne Tanner

Honey, I Took the Alien to a Shrink: Psychiatrist Jeff Bridges (left) tries to penetrate the mental mysteries of Kevin Spacey.

Pray It Forward

Sweetness, light and boredom reign in 'K-PAX'

By Richard von Busack

ONE DAY, he materializes in Grand Central Station, spotted only by a homeless vagabond in a wheelchair. He's arrested and brought to a public hospital in Manhattan--the most deluxe public madhouse you've ever seen in a movie. There, he's analyzed by a jesting Pilate of a psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). Prot (Kevin Spacey) says he rode here on a light beam from the planet K-PAX to watch us humans. Much of his study involves Dr. Powell, badly characterized by scriptwriter Charles Leavitt: he's a workaholic at home, ignoring his poor family; he's a cynical, flippant joker at the office. Prot gives hard evidence of being an actual alien, even confounding a group of astrophysicists in the new planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

Director Iain Softley directs, eh, softly. The music, despite its techno beat, is as gently insipid as Michel Legrand at his worst. The photography is more chromatically impressive, a series of fractured lavender, magenta and aqua tones. It's as if the film were lit through a stained-glass window--another tip that we're in church.

Some have congratulated Spacey's performance, though I want to beg him, "No more Mr. Nice Guy!" K-PAX (the title sounds like a Christian light-rock station) comes indecently soon after Spacey took a swim in the syrup in Pay It Forward. What may get him to the Oscars this year is his channeling of a lisping 6-year-old child's voice during a hypnotism sequence or the moment where he talks to a dog and translates its woofs.

Spacey, giving the deepest sincerity to Robin Williams' old Mork from Ork routines, may hit the oversensitive where they live. What's strange is how audiences--and a number of critics--could fall for the kind of cranky, superior type of person they'd avoid in real life. Prot is a preacher. He comes from a planet where sex is considered repellent, painful and evil-smelling--the fact that he has no taste for sex makes him more advanced that the rest of us lustful fleshapoids. He's a vegan, pigging out on fruit at all opportunities. And though Ork, I mean K-PAX, doesn't have families--the children raise each other like a village--he considers it his duty to reunite Dr. Parker with his estranged son.

K-PAX is nothing new. Aliens and angels and saintly madmen turn up in the movies every six months or so to remind us of our better nature (most recently it was James Caviezel in Angel Eyes). Only in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth was there a twist in the formula. The alien (David Bowie) ended up abused, blinded and stranded, shrugging, "This probably would have happened to you if you came to our place." I liked that threat--much more than films that stress that the unearthly are just like us, only far, far more boring.

K-PAX (PG-13; 125 min.), directed by Iain Softley, written by Charles Leavitt, based on the novel by Gene Brewer, photographed by John Mathieson and starring Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, plays valleywide.

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From the November 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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