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The Talking Cure: Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey go mental in 'K-PAX.'

Crazy Talk

Comic Debi Durst wants 'K-PAX' put away

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Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation.

Torture. The much-anticipated new Kevin Spacey drama, K-PAX, is not specifically about the intentional infliction of pain. No, K-PAX is about a man named "prot" (Spacey) who claims he's from another planet and has a profound effect on a burned-out psychiatrist (Jeff Bridges) and the wacky inmates he meets at a New York mental hospital.

Still, it is torture that my unsuspecting guest, comedienne Debi Durst, is inspired to discuss after catching a midweek screening of K-PAX.

Actually, the first subject she mentions is beer. As in, "Man oh-man, after that I really need a beer!" The subject of torture comes up gradually, beginning with a succinct but pointed review of K-PAX.

"K-PAX," Durst states, in her best wine-snob voice, "is beguilingly repetitive, yet boring, in an annoying, Enya sort of way." In other words: "It was torture. I used to think that when we catch Osama bin Laden, we should make him listen to 'It's a Small World' over and over," she says, grinning. "Now I think we should make him watch K-PAX. For that matter, make him watch every Stallone movie ever made. And every Steven Seagal film.

"That'll teach him not to mess with America."

Durst is a San Francisco comic with a cockeyed fixation on movies. Her one-of-a-kind voice is sometimes heard in animated films--including Nightmare before Christmas and Monkeybone. She has a viciously contagious laugh that resembles a slightly inebriated Bert (as in Ernie and Bert) attempting to impersonate Woody Woodpecker. And, yeah--she's married to political satirist Will Durst. But the most important thing about Debi Durst, right at this moment, is that she was expecting a whole lot more from K-PAX.

"As if there weren't enough disappointing movies already out in the theaters," she remarks, a pint of Heineken now in hand as we perch bar-side in some mostly empty noodle place. "I kept thinking, 'Ah Jeez, it would be nice if there was actually a good film worth seeing.' Guess we just have to wait for Harry Potter."

"So what bugged you?" I ask.

"What didn't?" she says, revving up that famous laugh. "I mean, I lost track of the clichés and the obvious messages. There were so many messages in this film you had to dodge them in your seat to keep from being pummeled to death. And if I saw one more rainbow, I was gonna puke."

The "rainbows" of which she speaks are the cute pink-and-red, tissue-paper window coverings that Spacey's fellow mental patients put up in the hospital to simulate the perpetual sunset on his home planet. All of which made it the nicest, prettiest mental hospital this side of Green Acres.

"Hell, if insanity is that nice, sign me up," Durst says. "I'll go. Right now. Who knew the funny farm was so much fun? And what a classy bunch of crazy people, huh?

"Speaking of crazy," she goes on, "I don't know what I think of that philosophy prot espouses toward the end. That idea about the universe expanding and contracting over and over, making time go forwards and backwards, so that every mistake we make in our lives is a mistake we'll have to repeat every time the universe expands again. Over and over and over and over.

"This is uplifting? It's depressing. Oh man! I'm going to have braces in high school again? Let me just slash my wrists right now."

"Don't," I suggest. "You'd just have to do that over again too."

"Hmmmm. Good point."

"It gets worse," I suddenly realize. "It appears you're going to have to see K-PAX again. Over and over."

"Well, damn!" Debbie Durst, laughing through the pain. "Damn! I guess I just can't win."

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From the November 1-7, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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