"K-PAX is a planet, but don't worry, I'm not going to jump out of your chest," states Kevin Spacey's would-be alien, Prot (pronounced to rhyme with goat), to Jeff Bridges' workaholic psychiatrist, in the early stages of Iain Softley's engaging sci-family drama.
So, is he an alien or a complete nutjob? It's a question handled pretty clumsily until the bemusing, ambiguous finale. But even if Charles Leavitt's screenplay (based on Gene Brewer's novel) doesn't have the subtlety to make this a compelling mystery, two strong performances, John Mathieson's luminescent cinematography, and the ethereal atmosphere Softley conjures more than make up for its deficiencies.
After the director's last film - the clinical, emotionally eviscerating trauma of "The Wings of a Dove" - it's as if he has decided to go to the other extreme, presenting a naive, touchy-feely fable, a blend of "Starman" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", by way of "Awakenings".
But that's not necessarily a bad thing, particularly when you've got leads as emotionally affecting, and different, as these. Both contenders for the 'Best Actor of their Generation' tag, their styles prove surprisingly complementary.
Spacey has the showier, grandstanding role - wistfully gazing and sagely proffering platitudes with his head cocked to one side, before he really proves his mettle in the more emotionally extreme moments. Bridges, in contrast, is as natural as ever - the magnitude of his performance creeping up on the viewer, before another particularly touching moment of clarity.
Start to think too much about "K-PAX" and its frail narrative edifice starts to crumble. Go with it, however, and this good-looking movie is a moving and cathartic experience.