His name is Robert Porter

Despite a fair amount of curiosity, I avoided catching K-Pax when it was in theatrical release. I felt I'd pretty much seen this before: someone brought into an institution who appears sane, but off-kilter in a way the staff is not prepared to deal with.

Not only that, but putting a supposed alien on Earth usually results in a number of standard plot points of the person in question presenting information that astounds and is generally very difficult to explain.

So, my expectation was a formula movie, and now that I've seen it, well, there was very little to surprise me.

Kevin Spacey is Prot (say "prote" - why would an alien fall immediately into the irregular parts of English?). He shows up in Grand Central Station (notice the thematic element of arriving and departing) without documentation and, instead of being sent to immigration, white boy Spacey is taken in for psychiatric evaluation.

Prot is eventually brought to the attention of Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) because, surprise, he apparently can see wavelengths of light that are normally not visible to the human eye. Prot claims to have arrived on a beam of light travelling several times faster than the speed of light (well, he didn't quite phrase it that way). He also claims that he appears as human because it's somehow easier. When he's pressed on the particulars of his existence, he shows knowledge only a few people on the planet could have possibly found in the skies.

Also not unusual in this kind of film, he strikes a strange but congenial relationship with the other people in his ward. They believe in him, and he tells them useful things that are more helpful than what the doctors say. Imagine that.

Prot continually says he's headed back to K-Pax on July 27th, 5:51am, Eastern time, five years after his supposed arrival. Powell thinks this means something and eventually traces the bits of information he's picked up to someone in New Mexico. It appears that Prot is really this guy Robert Porter whose family was killed on that day. Porter disappeared and was thought to have committed suicide.

The whole time through, the movie is selling us on an ambiguous ending. Is he or isn't he an alien? Is he speaking the truth, but only as he sees it?

Kevin Spacey shows that he's still a great actor, breathing through the role in interesting ways. The character is fairly static, though. The only real variances we get are when we see him as Robert Porter.

The ending provides no answers whatsoever, and even raises a question or two. The film is trying to have it both ways, but I think if you look at the evidence it provides, Prot really must be an alien. So why go through this rigamarole over "is he or isn't he"?

If you're going to do a formula film, you have to do it better. There needs to be some imagination in the execution, since there are already constraints as to what can go on screen. I don't even feel like it's scientifically rigorous. There's plenty of good tech references, but they aren't well put together. K-Pax simply doesn't bring all that much that's new. And I'm glad I saved my eight bucks.

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