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K-PAX (*)
Directed by Iain Softley
Written by Charles Leavitt, from the novel by Gene Brewer
Principal Cast
Kevin Spacey -- Prot
Jeff Bridges -- Dr. Mark Powell
Mary McCormack -- Rachel Powell
Alfre Woodard -- Claudia Villars
David Patrick Kelly -- Howie
Saul Williams -- Ernie
Peter Gerety -- Sal
Celia Weston -- Mrs. Archer
Ajay Naidu -- Dr. Chakraborty
Tracy Vilar -- Maria
Melanee Murray -- Bess
John Toles-Bey -- Russell
Kimberly Scott -- Joyce Trexler
Conchata Ferrell -- Betty McAllister
Vincent Laresca -- Navarro
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

K-PAX This movie is not worth your time or your money.

If you have decided to ignore my advice, then I'll warn you that I'm going to give away the ending. I don't think knowing the ending will make any difference. In any case, you already know everything from the preview. There is no payoff.

There is a genre I've talked about before. It doesn't have a name. It uses SF accoutrements but is not science fiction. "Third Rock from the Sun" is the epitome of this genre. So is K-PAX. And so, really, is I Dream of Jeanie, because in this genre it is impossible to distinguish between fantasy and science fiction. The people who work in this genre think that in science fiction, anything goes. If anything goes, then fantasy and SF can be stirred up into one usually tasteless stew.

You can recognize this genre by two things. First, there is no attempt at verisimilitude. Hospitals are nothing like real hospitals, police act nothing like real police, the army is nothing like the real army. Second, the fantasy or SF elements have no impact on the rest of the world, which goes on its merry way unchanged by the fact that there are aliens and genies abroad.

In real science fiction, changes have an impact. In this genre, a flying saucer could land on the White House lawn and it wouldn't make the evening news. Real science fiction writers go to the trouble to look up the details that make their work believable. In this genre, lazy writers can skip all that homework because, after all, it's only science fiction.

As I said, the genre doesn't have a name. I'd like to call it sci-fi, but that is a loosing battle. Suggestions for a name would be appreciated.

So, what about K-PAX?

The first third of the film is the story of an alien who comes to earth and, for reasons never explained, chooses to spend much of his stay hanging around a mental hospital. The alien really is an alien. There is ample evidence. To mention just a few pieces of evidence, any one of which would be conclusive: he can see ultraviolet, he knew many years ago about an extra-solar planet only recently discovered, he can enter and leave the hospital undetected, and he knows that a strange dog's favorite toy is an old shoe. Oh, he is an alien all right. No doubt about that.

What is doubtful is what planet he is on. For example, we see overworked police arrest harmless nuts, expensive psychologists gladly donate unlimited time to help penniless patients, the violently insane wander free in the common room, scientists presented with convincing evidence of alien visitation show no inclination to follow up on it, and crazy people stupid enough to think "Look for the bluebird of happiness," is profound.

The middle section of the film is the story of a human suffering trauma that causes him to think that he is from another planet. It's the same guy as the alien in the first part of the film, but now it is completely clear that he is not an alien, but a human. We see him regress under hypnosis, and pretend to be an alien in a much less convincing way than when he is not hypnotized. We get hard evidence of the events that traumatized him. He is not an alien. Again there is no doubt about it.

In the conclusion of the film, the writer plays the ambiguity card. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. After all, this is science fiction. It doesn't have to make sense.

My guess is that they started out to make one movie, then started to make a different movie, couldn't make up their minds what to do with the resulting mess, and released it anyway. Too bad. The movie does have one great line, that deserves a home in a better film: "Your produce alone was worth the trip."

Copyright © 2001 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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