When I was 7, I wrote a short story entitled "My Life as an Alien." It was about my "real" life as Gordenya Fishermums on a distant planet (before I, of course, arrived on Earth and infiltrated a human family. I never bothered to explain the evidence of my terrestrial birth). Along with my other sci-fi epic, "The Two Guys Who Saved the Universe, Jeremy and Nate," it was part of a set of stories that I felt would be literary classics.
Alas, my writing was amateurish, and my grasp on reality tenuous. The tales have only seen the light of day in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet (which is, technically, very dark). I only bring the story up because it kept popping into my mind while I was watching K-PAX.
Prot (Kevin Spacey) is from outer space - at least, that's his claim. Like most humanesque aliens who show up in a major metropolitan area (New York, in this instance), he's been institutionalized with a bunch of standard issue Hollywood nutballs. His shrink, Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges), is trying to break through and prove his patient is only human, but he may be heading in the wrong direction.
Spacey and Bridges are both infinitely better than the cliché-ridden, poorly structured, and muddled script that they have to work with. For Spacey, it's yet another step down from his phenomenal work in American Beauty. Bridges, on the other hand, has little to worry about, career-wise. This is just another non-breakout film for the unsung great (seriously, when will people sit up and realize that this guy has TALENT?).
Luckily, with the help of the two leads and the supporting cast (including the underused but captivating Alfre Woodard), K-PAX manages to lift itself above the sickeningly "heartfelt" and "moving" tripe it could have been and becomes something mildly enjoyable, though insignificant. The strength of the performances keep this machine rolling.
Even so, every and a while I wanted to smack somebody around (mostly the screenwriter) - especially when it came down to how the question of Prot's identity is handled. In the first half of the movie, it's an almost undeniable fact - this guy's a cosmic visitor. Later on, it seems that he must be human. Excuse me? Being ambiguous is one thing, but giving that much evidence for one side while saying that the other is most likely true - that's indecisive. Either the two possibilities should have been left as just that, a possibilities, or there should have been something presented to suggest how both could be true at once.
Equally schizophrenic (and I know that's not technically correct terminology) is Iain Softley's direction. Half of the time, he's deadly accurate - he keeps things going at a good, dramatic pace. He makes things look pretty good. He has signature camera moves and lighting for Prot. Then, the other half of the time, he falls into this sloggy, over-emotional, poking-with-emotions style that's totally unnecessary. It's really bothersome.
There's nothing really offensive about K-PAX. It's a trifle of a film, a Hallmark movie that somehow got a decent cast and a theatrical release. If you're into manipulative, studio-bred heartpokers, by all means, go ahead. Otherwise, you've been warned. This is not for those who think good writing is important to a movie.