K-Pax

2001, Movie, PG-13, 118 mins

Review

K-PAX
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The latest offender in the odd "let's see what the cute and funny mentally ill can teach us" genre, this mystery/domestic drama commits all the usual sins and clichés. The conceit worked brilliantly once in the satire KING OF HEARTS, which found the inmates literally running the asylum, and was brilliantly inverted in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, in which the inmates learn from a pretender. But for every GIRL, INTERRUPTED or THE SNAKE PIT, there are countless mental-hospital movies like CRAZY PEOPLE, THE DREAM TEAM and, now, this. One afternoon in Grand Central Terminal, police investigating a mugging pick up a perfectly calm man (Kevin Spacey) who claims to be an extraterrestrial from the planet K-PAX. Never mind the fact that in New York City you can't be involuntarily hauled in even if you're ranting that you're an alien; the filmmakers, who could have set the movie anywhere, chose a city whose streets are notoriously littered with mentally ill persons who can't be taken in and given help unless they're imminent dangers to themselves or others. With that sort of confused thinking suffusing the entire movie, we follow the possible spaceman, Prot (pronounced Prote), through his time at the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan. It's a bright place, filled with colorful art projects and resembling a pre-school classroom rather than a hospital; even the asylum in Barbra Streisand's vainglorious NUTS wasn't nearly as cute. After Prot inexplicably shrugs off the effects of powerful clinical drugs and exhibits such verifiable traits as an ability to see invisible ultraviolet light, he comes under the care of Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). Powell is a workaholic who gives only distracted attention to his wife (Mary McCormack) and two daughters, and he's estranged from the college-age son from his first marriage. Want to bet Prot will teach Dr. Powell how to appreciate his family and balance his working and personal lives? Thrown into this predictable mélange is the usual, utterly patronizing array of movie mental patients, including the childlike obsessive-compulsive (David Patrick Kelly), the "funny" afraid-of-germs guy (Saul Williams) and the faded grand dame (Celia Weston) who waits vainly for her — yes, she actually uses the phrase — "gentleman caller." Spacey is uncharacteristically uncharismatic, the once-lean Bridges has grown softly oxen, Alfre Woodard is wasted in a minor role and everything crawls to a deliberately ambiguous non-conclusion. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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