K-PAX
Review By: Gringo

There's a brand of ready-made turkey stuffing here in the United Kingdom called PAXO. So imagine my snickering when the opening credits for K-PAX rolled. Just one letter off the complete stuffing set! Imagine my snickering, because no one else in the cinema seemed to find it funny. In fact, I'd wager that no one else in the cinema even thought of a connection between this movie and a popular turkey stuffing brand. And I can't really blame them, because when the opening credits start even my mind switched from ready-made food supplements to the quality of the movie that was playing in front of my eyes. Of course, it was playing in front of a lot of other people's eyes as well. I didn't want you thinking I was some kind of freakish monstrosity with eyes as big as a house, regardless of how interesting that might very well be. Now I'm going to try and pull this review back from the bizarre tangents it's slipping off on. I'll try and keep things relatively normal and let you know what I thought of this movie. The simple verdict is - big eyes or no big eyes, turkeys or no turkeys - that K-PAX is one very fine production indeed.

However, as regular visitors to this site (yes, I can see all three of you!) will know, reviews found here aren't as straightforward as one paragraph of insane ramblings. So let's carry on, shall we? The movie is the story of Prot (Kevin Spacey), a man who seemingly appears out of nowhere in the middle of Grand Central Station. He says he's from a planet called K-PAX, where there's no war, anger or irritating GAP jeans adverts. Okay, I made that last one up. Prot is taken to psychiatrist Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges), and their developing friendship - as Dr. Powell sets out to try and discover who Prot really is, and whether he might possibly be an alien from an unknown planet - forms the main part of the movie. There's also a strong involvement of the patients at the psychiatric hospital where Prot stays; the scenes in the ward play like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with a bit of science fiction thrown in for good measure. But no one gets smothered to death with a pillow at the end in K-PAX. I'm not going to write much more about the story, because I'd probably give away some pretty important plot points. What I will say is that it's a clever movie that will keep you guessing until - and maybe after - the final scenes.

If the mention of Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey in the paragraph above didn't give you any idea of how good this movie might be, I'll tell you. Spacey helps to keep the story interesting and - despite its potentially far-fetched premise - relatively believable. He strikes a balance between alien curiosity about life on Earth and natural human touches which again means you won't get an answer to the question of his origin until the closing minutes. There are some uncomfortable scenes in the second half of the movie that Spacey's acting convinces you to keep you looking at, despite their content. Kind of like watching television wrestling. Which I don't do. Promise. As for Bridges, he's as good as always, putting across the right mix of confusion and inquisitiveness that you'd assume Prot's doctor would be going through during each of their sessions together. Dr. Powell is the character we're meant to associate with, as most of the story is spent with him trying to find out more about Prot. Thankfully, Bridges' performance is skilful enough to both keep the story moving forward and hold the audience's interest. Both the lead actors are given a good range of emotions to put across and for 99.9% of the time (I used a calculator) they succeed.

The rest of cast, particularly those playing the collection of characters in the hospital, are all worth a mention. There's two strands of supporting players; the aforementioned in-patients and the family and friends of Dr. Powell. Who aren't psychiatric cases. I think. Then again, they might be, and I could have been the victim of a devious Hollywood plot. But I doubt that. Regardless of that nonsense, all the actors and actresses involved with K-PAX are of a high standard. There's a story line involving Dr. Powell's son which could have been developed a little bit more, but if it means less time spent filming the goings-on at the hospital, that's no big loss. Inside the ward Prot is being kept are a variety of patients, each of them funny and interesting. One of the people I found particularly amusing was a tough New Yorker (the movie's set in the city) who kept telling everyone "you stink". Yes, that shows how immature my sense of humour is, but even a seemingly basic character like Mr. Stinky - no, not his name - is given some depth in later scenes. I haven't yet read the book this movie is based on, but either that text or the script for K-PAX should be commended for the range and quality of its characters.

Speaking of characters, let's get back to Prot. His claims about his alien heritage mean that he supposedly has a sensitivity to Earth's bright lights, which explains the sunglasses you can see in the pictures used in this review. As a result, light and illumination has a lot to do with this movie; there are plenty of artistic shots of light cascading through windows and reflecting off glass. By plenty I do, of course, mean too many. Some scenes could have benefited more by not lingering for quite as long on the pretty lights in the background and turning their attention more to the action in the foreground. Despite the occasional reliance on imagery rather than substance, the direction by Iain Softley is on the whole rather good. It's hard to explain further without giving the plot away. That's also a convenient excuse to be lazy and write less, so I think I'll take advantage of the opportunity. What I can do is condemn the expression 'on the whole' that I just used, primarily because it makes no sense. On what whole exactly? Or maybe a hole? And what is it about this hole that makes it so special? I think I'll have to start asking more questions about conversational clichés. Then again, maybe not.

So the cast is fine, the script's fairly good and the direction is generally quite well done - just like a fillet steak. Well, not really like a fillet steak. What I'm trying to do is introduce a paragraph about problems I had with K-PAX, so rather than try and continue some meat-based analogy I'll just get straight into it. One thing I had a love-hate (just like a real marriage, Gringo!) relationship with in this movie was the soundtrack. Sure, it's good music. The tunes composed by Edward Shearmur are original, and I'd probably even say it's worth buying the soundtrack CD for the mix of simplistic sounds and subdued dance-style touches it contains. I'd probably say that, but I won't, because it's long been established I have three cents to my name and therefore no CD player. However, what I didn't like about the soundtrack was the fact it was used so much, and a few times at an unnecessarily loud level. There were a few scenes that would have been a bit better had the audience been allowed to deduce for themselves they were meant to be emotional moments, rather than having that message forced into our minds by turning up the volume of the movie's music.

Despite these relatively minor faults, I liked K-PAX. A bit of excessive lighting and lazy reliance on the movie's soundtrack isn't enough to detract from the general high quality. Not only is there a fantastic cast - of which Bridges and Spacey give the best performances - but they're also assembled around a refreshingly original and interesting story. Sure, the alien-comes-to-Earth thing has been done before, but by making the major question whether Prot is or isn't really from a planet called K-PAX the people responsible for the movie have found a way to keep the audience interested until the end. Often, movies have small scenes during or after the end credits which add little to the plot, but are worth a laugh (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me being a good example, Sister Act being a bad example). There's a coda to the movie which follows the end credits in K-PAX that is surprisingly relevant, which was another nice touch. This movie is going to require you to think a little bit, so if Jean Claude Van Damme movies with action blazing out in every scene and wooden dialogue attacking your eyes is the kind of thing that gets you going, don't see this movie. For everyone else, take a look.

At the risk of repetition (Gringo, you crazy repeating fool! You are just like a broken record!) the movie does sometimes spend a few too many seconds on artistic shots of light and sometimes turns the volume of the soundtrack up a little bit too high. However, this is a well-acted movie, with plenty of decent messages - from healing to peace, and understanding to making the most of our lives. Regardless of how you may find those messages, they're at the heart of K-PAX and are presented through a story worth telling. I really quite liked this movie. Of course, the fact that the most recent movie I'd seen before this one was Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge probably helped sway my opinion somewhat. Then again, maybe it didn't. Mystery! You're just going to have to part with your dollars, or pounds, or if you live in the country a couple of potatoes (that's rural currency, surely. At least, it is in Idaho) and go and see K-PAX. Unless you're more cynical than Captain Cynical on a busy day spreading his cynicism at the helm of the S. S. Cynic, you'll enjoy this movie. And if you are Captain Cynic, can I please have a tour of your ship?


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