Prot is a man of the people. Having just arrived in Grand Central Station, he manages to soothe the nerves of a woman who’s just been mugged and telepathically connects with the station’s loveable black amputee. Prot claims he’s from the planet K-PAX, a place where the turn of one’s head is accompanied by a tinkly Ed Shearmur score. Prot (Kevin Spacey) makes a convincing alien; he speaks E.T., makes for a feverish mathematician and seems to know a thing or two about the speed of light. He’s a rain man trying to pay it forward. He’s God, he’s Jesus and the Holy Spirit all rolled into one. Well, not really. He’s just crazy, though the makers of K-PAX are more than ready to blur the is-he-or-isn’t-he lines; crazy or not, Prot is here to save humanity from itself. We’re too far-gone with our laws, lawyers and concepts of family. Prot is from a better place—where word associations make people giddy and banana skins taste good. In other words, Prot is exactly what Patch Adams ordered.
K-PAX is the kind of Hollywood drivel that assumes its audience has never stepped into an insane asylum. It’s a film that takes its concept of “crazy” from Penny Marshall’s Awakenings. In K-PAX, insanity is performance art. The patients at the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan are always ready to show off their signature quirks and loveable phobias; there’s the black man with a fear of diseases, the white woman with delusions of grandeur and the soul sister with a fondness for garish makeup. (Every loony archetype is perfectly in place with the possible exception of a Brittany Murphy.) They’re lost, untouchable by a cold psychiatric establishment that is unaware that the crazies can be cured with a little lunatic-on-lunatic action. Their world is far from Dr. Mark Powell’s (Jeff Bridges) lily-white existence; his is a place where the perfect family is represented by an overabundance of tiaras, a happy family dog and slow-mo shots of children playing on swing sets.
Enter Prot and his his ready-to-spew Thoreau philosophy. On K-PAX, “family is a non sequitur.” There is no need for law or lawyers because there is no crime; everyone in his universe knows the difference between right and wrong. While Powell may not believe that Prot is an alien, the doc is certainly intrigued by the purity of this strange man’s home planet. At some science center, Prot pulls a Good Will Hunting and charms a community of white elders with his prowess for complex algorithms. Everyone is wowed, seemingly convinced that their cuddly Mork is from far off places (who else but an alien can expertly map the orbital flow of a distant universe?). Director Iain Softley positions Prot as the savior of a wayward humanity. By film’s end, most of the asylum’s inmates have been cured by their Jesus and K-PAX becomes not unlike Rain Man in a preachy Freudian nutshell.
Soon after the film’s loony tunes inexplicably celebrate the presence of a blue bird outside their window, Prot announces his imminent return to K-PAX. “Your produce alone has been worth the trip,” says Prot as he lovingly stares at a bowl of fruit. Prot grows increasingly perturbed by curious human distinctions (patients/doctors) just as Powell begins to believe that regressive psychotherapy is key to cracking the alien code. Prot is invited to the Powell home; there he connects with the family dog, gorges on fruit salad (he’s a vegetarian—yes, he’s that pure!) and suffers a flashback by the swing set. When the sprinkler system kicks into slow-mo high gear, Prot clings to Powell’s daughter as if she were going to, um, drown. Curiously, K-PAX loses its self-importance once Prot’s wet n’ wild past is exposed for the bloody Freudian baggage it really is.
K-PAX is tailor-made for the K-Mart sect, a feel-good paperback melodrama with no cinematic sophistication or respect for subtlety; it’s a weepy regression fantasy for the psychologically half-conscious. (The film is Lars von Trier’s The Idiots directed by, well, you know.) At the heart of the film is Kevin Spacey’s performance, so putrid it’s sure to make middle-aged women with creepy janitor fetishes swoon in their seats. Worthy of a Razzie (read: Oscar), Spacey’s ridiculous performance is all stupid-faced godliness. When Powell’s wife tells Port he doesn’t know what he’s missing (she’s talking about family), K-PAX later browbeats the irony of the moment with ghoulish precision. If you like comedy, don’t miss K-PAX. It’s a hoot!