November 8, 2007

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Martian Child (PG)
A grief-stricken John Cusack takes in a floppy-haired, potentially extraterrestrial orphan in Martian Child.

David (Cusack) mopes around his house writing (or rather, not writing) his latest sci-fi novel and missing his wife. Because she had wanted to adopt children, his name is on the list when an odd boy named Dennis (Bobby Coleman) is in need of a home. Dennis isnít so sure thereís enough gravity and wears a weight belt to keep himself from floating away. He thinks the sun is too strong so he spends his outdoor time in a cardboard box (until David shows up with some super-high SPF). He takes photos (first with a camera with no film) and eats only Lucky Charms ó all part of his mission, so Dennis says. He is, he explains, on a mission from Mars to learn human being-ness.

David, all full of sad, John Cusack hangdog faces, decides this strange little child would be a good fit in his solitary life. After all (as youíve doubtlessly heard in the trailer), David writes about Mars and Dennis thinks heís from Mars. How could this go wrong?

Naturally, a kid whoís been abandoned by his parents and left floating through the foster system for a while probably has bigger problems than merely an over-developed sense of whimsy. Thus Lefkowitz (Richard Schiff), the head-shaking personification of The World against which Dennis and David must band together, threatens to break up this potentially happy home if David canít help Dennis get it together enough to go to school without being expelled and quit telling everybody about the Mars thing.

Martian Child is not the big stinky failure of, say, K-Pax. Cusack is, as he always is, good enough and his sister Joan turns in a fun supporting role (as Davidís sister, naturally). Amanda Peet waltzes through to play the love interest but has her more annoying qualities more or less balanced out by the fun, if pointless, Oliver Platt supporting role.

The weird problem with Martian Child isnít that itís a poorly constructed movie. It has good actors and an inoffensive script. But itís baffling. Who was this movie made for? Its PG rating might suggest that itís a family movie but I doubt kids would be able to sit through its many moments of talkiness and emotion. Thereís nothing particularly supernatural about the story or charming about the characters or the dialogue. It all seems a bit too twee for parents and too sappy for their kids. Perhaps thereís an audience on Mars? C

Rated PG for thematic elements and mild language. Directed by Menno Meyjes and written by Seth E. Bass and Jonathan Tolins (from a novel by David Gerrold), Martian Child is an hour and 48 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by New Line Cinema