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Martian Child

In this abandoned-kid-who-thinks-he's-an-alien mush-fest, Martian Child doesn't offer much beyond its small-screen sensibilities.


That isn't to say Martian Child doesn't get to you every once in a while. It starts off with science-fiction writer David Gordon (John Cusack) telling an audience what a geek he was as a kid. Now, of course, he's fabulously successful, but he still feels a little like an outsider—and he is certainly not at all fulfilled. You see, David has recently lost his wife, and in trying to grasp at something meaningful, he is contemplating adopting a child. Not just any child, mind you—David wants Dennis (Bobby Coleman), a young orphaned boy who spends his days in a box and claims to be from Mars. Seems like a match made in heaven, right? Not exactly. The odd youngster proves to be a tad overwhelming for the single dad, especially when some of the weird stuff Dennis does actually makes sense. Is he really an alien? David wonders just that, and in doing so, gradually finds himself growing more attached to the boy and experiencing the transformational power of parental love.


Like many other TV movies-of-the-week that masquerade as feature films by using bigger star power, Martian Child has John Cusack in its corner. The actor tries his darnedest to do something different with the part, playing David with much earnestness and honesty. David gets a lot of things wrong in his attempts to be a dad, but his warmth and kindness towards the boy never waver--although I think the Cusack performance we should be looking forward to is his dad in the upcoming Grace Is Gone. Coleman (Must Love Dogs) also does some fascinating things as the strange little Dennis—once you get past his very high-pitched, gravelly voice. The young actor plays Dennis with the right amount of weirdness and sadness as a little boy just looking to be loved. The rest of the supporting characters are unfortunately written with every cliché in mind, so the actors playing them can't really shine, including Joan Cusack as David's disapproving—and then approving—sister; Amanda Peet as David's old friend who exudes enthusiasm ad nauseaum; and Richard Schiff as the child social services shrink who doesn't think David can be a good single parent. There always has to be a party pooper.


Apparently, Martian Child sat on the shelf for a little while before being released. It could be because there isn't really anything compelling about the film, save for a few moments any normal emotional person would get choked up about. Dutch director Menno Meyjes, who also directed John Cusack in the little-seen Hitler drama Max, just doesn't use enough of his imagination in Martian Child. There are endless possibilities, especially since David writes science fiction and Dennis believes he is from Mars. More star gazing, perhaps? Fantasy sequences in which Dennis talks to his comrades in space? Alas, no. Instead, Martian Child plods along its merry little predictable way. You know, I'm not a director, but sometimes I feel I could do a lot of the same work for a lot less money.

Bottom Line rated this film 1 1/2 stars.