2 out of 4 stars

The setup: A widowed science fiction writer (John Cusack) adopts an emotionally troubled 10-year-old (Bobby Coleman).

Great scene: The little boy's lovely, peculiar Martian dance.

Rating: PG for thematic elements and mild language.

Movie revie4w: Lost souls find each other in sappy 'Martian Child'

  • Article by: Colin Covert
  • Star Tribune
  • November 1, 2007 - 4:50 PM

David is damaged goods, a science-fiction novelist who has been in a creative and emotional dead zone for the two years since his wife died. He lives in a sterile, modernist box of a house in Los Angeles with no one but his dog for company.

Dennis is damaged goods, a psychologically troubled 10-year-old orphan who insists he's from Mars. He lives in a shipping crate, fearful of stepping into the outside world where the sun will char his sensitive skin.

"Martian Child," the story of these two injured souls coming together, is a film so cloying it could have been processed from high-fructose corn syrup. John Cusack, who plays the writer, can perform these sorts of Mr. Sensitivity roles in his sleep, and in this case he might as well have. There's not much here to distinguish his work from all the spaniel-eyed mopes he's played before, except that here he's putting everything on the line for a child, rather than an unattainable woman.

The script could charitably be called basic. David reaches out to Dennis through a provisional adoption. His sister (Joan Cusack, delivering the film's few laugh lines in her prissy little-girl voice) warns him that he's in over his head, and the child protection authorities look on watchfully to see if he can provide the boy (apparently borderline autistic) with a suitable home. The writer identifies to a degree with the boy's quirky imagination and alienation, and draws him out of his isolation by humoring his fantasies. He gets him into the sunlight with shades, a battered parasol and sunblock, and soon they're bonding tentatively at baseball games.

Dennis is a challenge, though, weirder and more stubborn than David bargained for, and as his demands become increasingly difficult, David falls behind on a crucial deadline for his upcoming book. The authorities threaten to remove the boy, and his behavior edges into dangerous territory as he threatens to return to Mars by spaceship.

Director Menno Meyjes gives the film a tone that's archly childish; it fails as drama, but succeeds as camp. When David asks his young friend, "Why did they send you here? You know, the Martians?" Dennis replies, "To join a family and to learn human beingness."

This is the kind of movie that divides the audience into people who roll their eyes and people who dab their eyes with Kleenex. If you're one of those for whom the sight of Cusack, scrunching his shoulders in a trenchcoat and looking doleful, is worth the price of admission, by all means go. Just don't sit next to me.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

Colin Covert •

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