Directed by Iain Softley, starring Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodward, Mary McCormack, Peter Gerety and Saul Williams.
It was probably only a matter of time before critics' favourite Kevin Spacey was asked to don the spacesuit and bring his considerable talents to bear on emoting as a creature from another planet. Well, although he's not wearing a spacesuit, this is the finished product as Spacey lines out alongside Jeff Bridges for a tale that, despite sporadic sugary excesses, is a reminder that sometimes 'nice' is as good as it gets.
'K-Pax' wastes no time in getting down to business. The opening scene sees a serenely benign looking gentleman (Spacey) being arrested after a mugging at a train station. Maintaining his claim that he's not of this earth but an alien from the distant planet K-Pax, the gentleman in question is, understandably, detained in a mental institution. After routine drug tests fail to make any impact on the man - whose name is Prot by the way - he is assigned to the care of top psychiatrist Dr Mark Powell (Bridges).
Powell has seen it all before, and thinks little of encountering another acute delusional with fantasies of being from another world. Prot, however, is a different challenge to what Powell has come to expect. An unshakeable consistency in thought structure, a mystifying ability to see ultra-violet light (a feat beyond humans) and a phenomenally precise knowledge of astro-physics make Prot an unusually difficult nut (sorry!) for Powell to crack. But this is what he intends to do before Prot can fulfill his intention of beaming back to his native planet.
For the best part of an hour, 'K-Pax' maintains its allure simply because you're clueless as to the veracity of Prot's story. Humans seem inexorably drawn to the possibilities of the existence of aliens and Softley's fourth feature (after 'Backbeat', 'Hackers' and the haunting 'The Wings Of The Dove') taps into this inevitable interest immediately, and manages to sustain it admirably for the first half. Then, things begin to unravel somewhat.
The film builds up a taut sense of expectation and you get the feeling the ending will be something spectacular or, at the very least, surprising. Unfortunately, it's neither. The story begins to amble off down the path marked 'predictable' rather than cranking up the possibilities and leaving us with an unresolved sense of suspense. Salvation ultimately comes via the performance of Jeff Bridges. Arguably American cinema's most consistent and consistently underrated actor, Bridges completely steals the show from the more lauded Spacey, who's simply on autopilot throughout.
No nuthouse scenes have ever managed to capture the humour, pathos and idiosyncratic structure as perfectly as those in 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest', and although 'K-Pax' gives generous time to the routines of a mental institute, it never comes close. Some will say that without the presence of two Hollywood heavyweights this wouldn't merit a first look, never mind a second. Yet every decade will, or at least should, have a place for films that explore the possibility of other life in an inspiring, humorous and maudlin-free manner. There have been and hopefully will be better examples than 'K-Pax', but in the meantime, this will do.