- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

While it sports a premise identical to Eliseo Subiela's 1986 Argentine fable "Man Facing Southeast" a man in a mental institution claims to be a visitor from another world Iain Softley's K-Pax , based on Gene Brewer's novel, succeeds in establishing its own identity. It's our…

Video pick of the week
"K-Pax" (Universal, priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD) gives us the appropriately named Kevin Spacey as Prot, a proclaimed alien from the advanced planet K-Pax, who arrived via light travel (and who later puns, "I always travel light"), entrusted to the care of hospital shrink Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges).
Sort of a laid-back Zen variation on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" agitator McMurphy, Prot immediately exerts a hopeful, healing influence on his fellow patients, one of whom he promises to take with him on his planned return journey to K-Pax. The understandably skeptical Mark finds his own belief systems challenged as Prot reveals information seemingly only a true K-Paxian could know, including his distant home's complex orbital patterns, a revelation that astounds even top astronomers.
Director Softley and screenwriter Charles Leavitt cleverly keep both Mark and the audience guessing throughout the philosophical Prot's cosmic claims. The film injects a good deal of wit into the proceedings and admirably avoids cheap sentimentality (we shudder to imagine what Steven Spielberg would have done with the same material, with Robin Williams as Prot), while generating back-end suspense and concluding the tale on an ambiguous yet satisfying note, a tricky feat indeed.
Mr. Spacey and Mr. Bridges are flawless in what's virtually a two-character dance, though both David Patrick Kelly and Saul Williams turn in textured work as two of Prot's inmate buds. Withal, "K-Pax" rates as a populist thinking-viewer's movie that lingers in the interior bijou long after the end credits roll.

Broadway's "The Producers" has brought Mel Brooks back into prominence, and he's at his most masterfully mirthful as the titular 2000 Year Old Man (Rhino, $14.95 DVD), a 26-minute comedy special, animated by Leo Salkin, that originally aired on TV in 1964. Both the animation style and Mr. Brooks' material remain remarkably fresh as Mel's ancient, cheerful cynic (who resembles R. Crumb's Mr. Natural) shares with interviewer Carl Reiner the real skinny on world history, from man's discovery of woman to the old man's brief romance with Joan of Arc. In short, a satiric triumph for the ages.
While we're on the subject of vintage television, Vanguard Cinema releases the '60s kiddie show Winky Dink and You! , the "first interactive children's television program" (per Bill Gates' box blurb). Volumes 1-3 are available in VHS ($9.95 each) and DVD editions ($14.95 each), while Vol. 1 can also be had in a special carrying case that includes VHS tape, magic drawing screen, crayons and wipe-off cloth ($14.95 each) for max interactive effect.
A&E; Home Video, meanwhile, introduces two DVD sets ($39.95 each) from Blake Edwards' ultra-cool, late-'50s TV sleuth series Peter Gunn , starring Craig Stevens as the suave eponymous shamus, Lola Albright as his chanteuse squeeze Edie and Herschel Bernardi as his LAPD police lieutenant pal Jacoby in capers set to Henry Mancini's memorable jazz scores. Still hip after all these years.

Comedies on cassette
Among the recent theatrical mirthfests making their way to home video next month, Artisan Entertainment leads the way with a pair of edgy comedies: Kenneth Branagh stars as an antisocial playwright beset by pooch problems in How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog , co-starring Lynn Redgrave and Robin Wright Penn; while Steve Martin returns to his "Little Shop of Horrors"-styled dental roots in the biting Novocaine , featuring Helena Bonham Carter, Scott Caan and Laura Dern.
Elsewhere, Martin Lawrence top-lines as a misplaced medieval theme-park worker in the time-travel farce Black Knight . Billy Bob Thornton leads a premium cast in the Coen Brothers' black-and-white noir goof The Man Who Wasn't There (USA Home Entertainment). Columbia/TriStar unleashes the adolescent-romp spoof Not Another Teen Movie . All of the above will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Phan mail
Dear Phantom: I came across a great review of the Disney made-for-TV film The Garbage-Picking, Field-Goal-Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon . Is this film available in video or DVD?
Ruth Nunn, via e-mail
While the above 1998 TV-movie mouthful has yet to land a video release, chances are strong that, as a Disney production, it will see the video light of day in the not-too-distant future.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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