- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

Hollywood multiculturalism makes ample room for extraterrestrials as a sacred-cow constituency. The polemical-inspirational groaner "K-Pax" exemplifies this bias. It embraces Kevin Spacey in the alternately smug and suffering role of a sagacious redeemer who calls himself Prot, presumably short for Protean, and claims to be a bemused visitor from a distant planet, K-Pax.

Lest the filmmakers be mistaken for total fantasists, the benign oddness of Prot has a down-to-earth, poignantly clinical explanation. The homeless man who would be a distinguished alien is actually a wandering delusional named Robert Porter who abandoned his home in the Southwest after a tragedy and eventually reached New York City.

Prot flourishes when he is placed under the care of psychiatrist Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) at a rather nonchalant asylum. The other patients warm to him so promptly that they regard him as a godsend and K-Pax as their ultimate spiritual haven.

Powell, having conducted a trio of hypnosis sessions with Prot, follows an Internet search to New Mexico to track down the Porter tale of woe, not even stopping to change out of his consulting-room wardrobe. Despite being a man of science, the sympathetic shrink cannot totally dismiss the possibility of supernatural and divine powers in his elusive patient. Knowing Prot also impels Powell to start mending a broken emotional fence in his own family. One gathers he will always cherish Prot as "the most convincing delusional I ever came across." High praise, indeed, in a Hollywood context.

The problem with "K-Pax" is that Prot's sanctimonious tendencies approach the insufferable when confined to a would-be-realistic setting. The movie assumes a simple-minded identification with Prot's superiority complex. There's an awful lot of Mr. Spacey making tsk-tsk gestures while purring such lines as, "You humans " or "Doctor, patient, a curious human distinction."

Prot reflects a far from discriminating or consistent outlook on the part of screenwriter Charles Leavitt and director Iain Softley in adapting a novel by Gene Brewer. They amusedly ascribe crackpot ideas about sex and politics to the supposedly lofty K-Paxians. Pressing their luck, they venture into superficial theological waters and sink like ignominious rocks.

If your designated know-it-all is going to single out Christianity and Buddhism for scorn, hypocrisy is likely to be charged when you surround him with Christian symbolism to illustrate intimations of divinity. Resurrection and baptismal imagery begin to proliferate so rashly in "K-Pax" that one would think Mr. Softley had invented them and could not resist gushing about his singular revelation.

The hypnosis sequences tend to date the movie in a peculiar way. They recall the entire generation or more in which theater and movie people were convinced that every hypnsis would yield a stunning dramatic breakthrough. The technique, streamlined for stage or screen, guaranteed breakthroughs for trusting and expedient dramatists time after time.

"K-Pax" is as quaintly trusting as "Spellbound" or "The Three Faces of Eve" or "Freud," but, of course, it wants to pretend to believe in the worst way.

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