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Having made a reputation in such stylish neo-noirs as Seven and The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey has done something odd with his stardom: appear in a string of earnest flicks that recall Hollywood’s early-’70s dalliance with the counterculture. In American Beauty, Spacey was a suburban drone who needed to escape the bourgeoisie and enjoy the wonders of rock, pot, and teenage girls. In Pay It Forward, he was a scarred man who became the apostle of a Christlike youth. Now he plays wise, gentle drifter Prot, who claims to be from K-PAX, a planet so distant it’s unknown to earthlings. Interplanetary angle aside, the film doesn’t owe much to spaceman pictures; it’s more akin to King of Hearts, the 1966 paean to lunacy that became a belated college-town hit a few years after its release. Detained by cops at Grand Central Terminal, Prot is sent to an asylum, where he’s assigned to Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges in Fisher King mode). Of course, Prot understands life better than the uptight shrink, who’s estranged from his teenage son and neglecting his second wife and their young daughters. Meanwhile, Prot’s explanations of K-PAX’s celestial attributes impress Powell’s best friend, who just happens to be an astrophysicist. In his spare time, Prot starts curing Powell’s hopeless cases, working wonders by promising to take one of the ward’s inhabitants with him when he returns to K-PAX. As Prot’s announced departure nears, Powell frantically investigates, hoping to uncover his patient’s secret before the disastrous psychic meltdown he anticipates on that date. Shooting in deep shadow, director Iain Softley doesn’t hype this sententious tale as hard as he could. Still, K-PAX continues his pattern of making good films in Europe (Backbeat, The Wings of the Dove) and bad ones over here (Hackers). If the movie presents psychosis as a form of enlightenment, the family-values moral is one that most Hollywood filmgoers won’t find too crazy—although K-PAX does score oddball points by offering its commonplace message in the guise of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence. —Mark Jenkins