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ORIGINALITY IS AN ALIEN CONCEPT IN 'K-PAX'

"K-Pax" is an entertaining movie that has a lot going for it, but leaves the moviegoer with a frustrating sense of familiarity that nags throughout the film. It's almost like the movie is saying, "Hey, remember this part in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' or 'The Fisher King'?"

The movie has the passionless professional who ignores his doting family; the wacky, lovable patients in a psychiatric ward -- including the one who hasn't spoken in years (guess how that turns out?), and the person who changes all their lives by showing them how great the world really is. This is the kind of movie Robin Williams would have made a few years ago in his Patch Adams phase.

"K-Pax," based on the novel by Gene Brewer, should be a really bad movie. It borrows liberally from the aforementioned films and even makes room for the latest annoying plot device: a flashback of profound impact that only one character can visualize.

It also has one of the most unsatisfying and ambiguous endings in recent memory.

Still, a movie starring Kevin Spacey can't be too bad, can it? Here Spacey plays Prot, a mysterious man who appears out of a ray of light in Grand Central Station and claims he comes from the planet K-Pax, thousands of light years away.

So he is sent to Dr. Powell (Jeff Bridges) at the Manhattan Psychiatric Institute. Dr. Powell finds himself believing in Prot's story, made all the more convincing because Prot can see ultraviolet rays and eats bananas with the peels on.

At the Institute Prot tells the other patients that when he returns to K-Pax he can take only one of them with him. This reawakens a sense of purpose in them, and in Powell, too. And there's a great scene inside a planetarium where Prot charts his planet's orbit. The scene has a real sense of awe and wonder.

But the movie seems to abandon that whimsical sense of fantasy when it goes into Prot's past. Is he an alien? Is he just a wacko? Is he a wacko inhabited by an alien? "K-Pax" can't make up its mind and more's the pity.

The occasionally insightful screenplay, coupled with beautiful cinematography, easily overrides the film's predictable contrivances.

So why the cheat at the end, when it seems everyone involved just wanted to hurry up and end the film, regardless of logic?

Kevin Spacey is one of the best actors working today (see "The Usual Suspects," "L.A. Confidential" or "American Beauty" if you don't believe me. DON'T see "Pay It Forward") and his calm, matter-of-factness gives Prot the perfect presence on screen. He's an extremely likable character and it's a winning performance.

"K-Pax" will make some people feel good. But it's more likely to leave viewers scratching their heads, wondering who Prot really was and why he liked bananas so much.

Chris Brenner is a senior at Williamsville East High School.

K-PAX ** 1/2
Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, mild violence.

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