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K-Pax: Collector's Edition on DVD

Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Alfre Woodard, Mary McCormack. Directed by Iain Softley. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1. 121 minutes. 2001. Universal 21553. PG-13. $26.98.

New York City, Union Station. A mysterious man in dark sunglasses appears, seemingly from nowhere. A woman's purse is stolen and she's knocked down, and as he helps her up, the NYPD appear and question him. Claiming to be from another planet, K-Pax, the man is admitted to the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan.

Constantly wearing his sunglasses because K-Pax's light is much dimmer than Earth's, Prot (Kevin Spacey) certainly seems crazy. Yet Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges) is baffled by this polite, articulate "alien." Already a workaholic with a distant wife and family, Powell becomes obsessed with Prot's case and decides to unravel the mystery behind his madness.

Or is it madness? The film gives us some evidence to believe Prot. Tests show he can see ultraviolet rays, and he doesn't respond to strong medication. He also has an extraordinary knowledge of astronomy, more than Powell's astronomer brother-in-law. So perhaps he is a K-Paxian.

Further investigation by Powell swings the pendulum, and this gentle sci-fi film takes a dramatic turn. Prot might just be delusional after all. Powell's pretty wife, Rachel (Mary McCormack), resents her husband's distraction, but learns to like his patient at a family barbecue.

Prot serves as the mouthpiece for the film's moral, which is to love and appreciate your family. (There are no families on K-Pax.) Spacey gracefully portrays Prot as a likable know-it-all, making odd but humorous observations from a foreigner's perspective. And who can forget the scene in which Prot eats a banana, peel and all?

As Powell, Bridges does well at creating a realistic character, but he's almost too ordinary, not quite three-dimensional. The highlight of his performance is his compassion for Prot. McCormack shines brighter, perhaps because Rachel is a more sympathetic character. The supporting cast is likable and natural as can be, considering that most of them are playing mental patients.

The film's look reflects its plot, in which light itself is a character. Sunlight and light rays are prominent because director Iain Softley and crew shot the film to fit Prot's story—he got to Earth via light travel. The overall visual effect has a celestial, sci-fi feel. Warm lighting and tones are used in the interior of Powell's office; harsh, green-tinged light in the hospital scenes; and bright white lights on exterior shots. The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is clear, crisp, and renders sunlight well. The actors' skin tones look natural in the frequent close-ups.

The somewhat eerie theme music, which I found to be too heavily employed, tests the rear speakers, but not much else uses the surround channels, which are mostly reserved for ambient effects. There is a DTS track, which I found a bit more directional and surround-friendly than the Dolby Digital.

The menu is colorful and heavy on the music, but not as overdone as other menus. The extras elaborate nicely on the film, which needs some explanation. (K-Pax, for example, is based on Gene Brewer's novel of the same title, which took six years to get to the screen.) There's a director's commentary, and an alternate ending that isn't all that alternate. A "making of" featurette is full of tidbits and interviews, from Spacey's banana consumption to the cinematographer's mission to embellish light. The few deleted scenes, set in the mental hospital, were unnecessary. The storyboard-to-film comparisons show a split screen of the first few minutes of the film, and it's interesting to see how the film matches the drawings. A nice touch is an album of Jeff Bridges' on-set still photos; they give the impression that cast and crew enjoyed the project. Other extras are production notes that read like a playbill, and DVD promotions.

Only the viewer can decide whether or not Prot is truly from outer space, but that isn't the only significant plot point. The main thrust is that Powell, through knowing Prot, learns to actively love and appreciate his family.K-Pax is simple and moralistic, but it's also smart and entertaining—better than a lot of films out right now. The disc's extras enhance the viewing, and the picture is great. Any Spacey fan, sci-fi buff, or discriminating viewer should enjoy this DVD.

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