Remember when Kevin Spacey was considered a good actor? It happened between 1995 and 1999. In 1995, both The Usual Suspects and Seven were released, and Spacey earned an Academy Award for his role as Roger Kint in The Usual Suspects. In 1999 he was again awarded an Academy Award for his role as Lester Burnham in American Beauty. That’s not to say that Spacey hasn’t had some minor triumphs before and since then, but those were really the golden days of Spacey. At this point, the shine has worn off. People don’t even care if he’s blowing guys in his trailer anymore. I think his fall from grace has to do with the fact that he has absolutely no range. His characters are always bemused and detached, watching the movie that’s going on around them as if they aren’t a major part of it. Splash some cold water on your face, Kevin Spacey, you’re a fucking movie star. Act like it.
K-PAX is, in some ways, a two-hour long calling card for Kevin Spacey. A calling card for if he wants to show people just how bad he can be at acting. The movie is about an extraterrestrial named Prot who gets arrested at Grand Central Station for wearing sunglasses and standing too close to a mugging victim. He ends up in the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan (sure) under the expert treatment of Jeff Bridges. Jeff Bridges is convinced that Prot is a crazy person, but there are some aspects of his performance that are difficult to ignore. For example, Prot does not respond to anti-psychotic medication (Thorazine and Haldol), his eyes can detect infrared light (that’s a thing doctors are always testing eyes to find out if they can do), and he gives some astrophysicists calculations for where the planet K-PAX can be located and all the astro-physicists are like “Um, that is top secret astrophysicist stuff for the pros only.” Prot tells Jeff Bridges that being on Earth is awesome, but that he’s going to be leaving on July 26th at 5:10 in the morning, and Jeff Bridges decides that’s an anniversary of something bad that happened to Prot and that he’s got to make a psychotherapy breakthrough before Prot “leaves.” He puts Prot under hypnosis to “regress” him and Prot tells him about previous trips to Earth to visit his friend “Pete,” who he came to visit whenever Pete was scared. Later, Jeff Bridges goes to New Mexico where a guy who looks just like Prot disappeared after a man killed his wife and daughter. On July 26th at 5:10 AM, Prot disappears, kind of, leaving Kevin Spacey’s body in a catatonic state and Jeff Bridges reunites with his son because that’s how these things work, and we’re not supposed to know whether Prot was real or just a creation of Kevin Spacey’s sad mind.
Here’s just a taste of the old Spacey magic.
I should stop for a second to say that I don’t think this is the WMOAT. But it definitely might be the Worst Peformance of All Time. You can just see Kevin Spacey’s brain bursting with self-congratulatory shouts of “ACTING! I’M ACTING!” The worst. And it also wins an honorary mention as being a member of the Worst Genre of All Time, which is the Crazy/Mentally-Disabled Person Teaches the Jaded Cynic to Enjoy Life Again school of reductive redemption stories. Again: the worst. But as for the Worst Movie of All Time, it’s too soft. It’s a lazy jumble of dull clichés tied together by half-hearted writing and phoned in performances, except for Kevin Spacey, who really tried to make this one for the Horrible Record Books.
That being said, it is very very bad. For one, the twist ending in which we’re supposed to be left wondering whether or not Prot was an alien or just a disturbed man would be a perfectly decent O’Henry finale if the filmmaker (Iain Softley, who also brought us Hackers) hadn’t worked so hard to build up the case for him being an alien. Between the infrared vision and the secret astro-physicist information, not to mention the part where Prot can talk to dogs, and the part where he disappears from a well-guarded mental institution for a few days to “travel up North,” are never resolved. Which means they’re pretty convincing evidence that he’s totally an alien. Fair enough. I’m willing to accept that. So what’s the point of not just having him disappear altogether, but keeping up this charade of a mystery? If it’s a thin, barely worked out message that we’re surrounded by wonders that we can’t explain and should be open to miracles it would be just as valid with a spaceship at the end. In fact, the only point I can take from leaving him here as a comatose in a Carhart jacket is that we should always remain skeptical. That even when given ample evidence to the contrary, we should stubbornly refuse to believe what is right in front of us.
But perhaps the most egregious problem with this movie (Spacey excluded) is the nonsense pop psychology on which it constructs its entire dramatic arc. I’m totally willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to believe that Prot may actually be a stilted actor with fruit-triggered diarrhea from the planet K-PAX, but fuck you if you think I’m going to passively accept this hypnosis bullshit. Not only does this give Kevin Spacey an excuse to show off his estimable “talking in a little kid’s voice with his eyes closed and then later talking in a gentle southern twang voice with his eyes closed” skills, when I’d rather he didn’t have an excuse, but at one point, watching through a two-way mirror, Jeff Bridges’s lab assistant says, “Pulse is up to 140, respiration’s at 30, for God’s sake, Mark, bring him back.” No. Nope. The only worse example of this kind of lazy disrespect for the mental health profession was in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams cured Matt Damon by hugging him. OH, and I almost forgot the rowdy band of lovable mental patients who rally around Prot and share their dreams of returning to the regular world. The fact of the matter is most mental patients, particularly those who have been permanently or extensively hospitalized, have very serious problems by which they might hurt themselves or others, and to depict them as goofy captives in a silly string prison is not only a tremendous stretch of the truth and a bizarre Disneyfication of PSYCHOSIS, it’s also just kind of rude.
That’s OK, K-PAX, no need to apologize. I will take your quiet sinking to the bottom of Whoops Ocean with two lead FAILS tied to your ankles as admission of your mistakes.