K-PAX (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

In the opening scene, Kevin Spacey tries to assist a woman who has been assaulted. The police mistakenly blame him at first, and while they are detaining him they find that he has no name, no I.D., no visible means of support, and he's hanging around a train station without a ticket. Oh, and one other minor detail. He claims to be a visitor from outer space.

The psychiatrist assigned to his case has to deconstruct Spacey's past in such a manner as to reveal who is really is, and why he is pretending to come from the planet K-PAX. That he does, but in the process of studying his patient, he turns up some strange facts. He finds evidence that identifies Spacey as a man who killed another man in New Mexico after finding that man had killed his wife and daughter. But the psychiatrist also finds credible evidence that Spacey is who he says he is, a visitor from outer space.

My biggest problem with the movie was an internal inconsistency in the script. The shrink (Jeff Bridges) sees irrefutable physical and mental evidence that Spacey really is an alien, but chooses to ignore it in monomaniacal pursuit of the delusion angle. The script needed him to do that, but if you look back on it, you have to ask yourself these questions:



1. If Spacey is just a nutbag, how did he manage to describe the geometry of his solar system with hand calculations faster than the world's greatest astrophysicists could do it on their computers. (Their calculations proved that he was correct). Could one guy who used to work in a meat-packing slaughterhouse be that much smarter than the smartest men in the world? If Bridges was really a man of science, he would have to concede that there was far more going on than just a simple, troubled delusional from New Mexico.

2. If Spacey is a mere earthling, how does he manage to see light in the non-visible spectrum? Are we to believe that, in addition to having the  greatest mind in all of history, he's also the guy with greatest eyes in all of history?

3. How could the other patient, the one who was to accompany him back to K-PAX, have disappeared at the exact time that the space trip was supposed to take place? If Spacey travels through space after discarding his earthly body, why is her body missing?

4. How could a mere mortal Spacey have known and communicated the dog's grievances in such detail unless he really could speak to the dog?

You see what I'm driving at here? It is a scientist's job to evaluate the facts in front of him, and to change his opinions and "scientific" beliefs if his beliefs can't possibly conform to the facts. Bridges and his associates claim it's silly and unscientific to believe that Spacey is from outer space. Well, how else could a professional cow-stunner be hundreds of times smarter than the world's smartest astrophysicists? It is not unscientific to believe Spacey's story. It is unscientific NOT to.

This tends to spoil the film a bit because we are not as dumb as the scientists and psychiatrists in the film. We can see that there is no plausible explanation other than there must, somehow, be some truth to Spacey's story. No matter how many red herrings they feed us about the poor schmuck in New Mexico and his troubled history, there is no other way to explain his grasp of advanced mathematics that the world's greatest scientists have never thought of, but can confirm as correct! Spacey may be a cow-stunner, but he's not JUST a cow-stunner. It is certainly scientific to doubt the outer space story in the first place, but it isn't scientific to keep denying it by shrugging off accomplishments which no human is capable of. Since we can see this, some of the surprise is spoiled for us. There's no rational way to explain his grasp of math and physics, so we know early in the film that there has to be some truth to his claim.

I would have preferred the story if the scientists could have figured out an explanation, and there turned out to be no alien presence, but that isn't they way it went down, and I think the scriptwriter has to stay consistent with his own premise. He did not always do so.

Having said all that, let me hasten to add that I really liked the film. It isn't really about a space visitor, and the plot details aren't that important. It's about what is important in life, and how we should view the world we live in, and each other. As Bridges examines the delusional patient, he comes to understand that he is making a mess of his own family life, and in a certain way the patient cures him.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by director Ian Softley

  • Making-of featurette, including exclusive behind-the-scenes footage plus interviews with the cast and crew

  • Never-before-seen alternate ending

  • Deleted scenes

  • "The Making of K-PAX"--pictures by Jeff Bridges

  • DVD-ROM features

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 2.35:1

The film also very subtly asks without actually asking - "what if Jesus came back now?" - would anyone believe him? Wouldn't they just think he was a loony, and try to analyze him, no matter how much evidence he produced? Now that I think about it, that's pretty much what was supposed to have happened when JC showed up the first time, if you believe the biblical accounts. The parallels are quite clear. Spacey's education of the astrophysicists is a precise parallel to Jesus educating the learned men in the temple. Spacey's healing of the mental patients is comparable to Christ's curing the sick. Spacey even preaches much of the same message. Spacey even points out that very few humans ever "got it" on the whole spiritual development thing. He points out that even though Christ and Buddha saw the path, Christians and Buddhists generally do not.

All that pontificating on the failures of the human race could have been a supercilious sermon or pure sap if played wrong, but Spacey does it so matter-of-factly that the film is allowed to make its points with a scalpel rather than with a sledgehammer.

Although the film grossed $50 million, is rated 7.2 at IMDb, and got solid reviews from the top critics that we cite, it is remembered as something of a failure. For the studio, that's partially correct. The moguls invested $48 million in it, and it will be a while before they recoup their investment, because theater owners get half of the gross. The studio needed this to be a $100 million dollar picture, and it wasn't. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, BBC 4/5, filmcritic.com 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: Popular, but not popular enough for its cost. $50 million domestic gross, $48 million budget.



IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. Very pleasant viewing experience. Perhaps not profound, but gently humorous, thoughtful, and sweet in nature.

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