Laura CliffordDavid Gordon (John Cusack), recently widowed, is a science fiction writer desperate to overcome his grief. How to do so? Why, adopt a child, of course. The problem is the boy he selects is excessively weird and troubled. So much so, that David may be well over his head with his decision to adopt the “Martian Child.”
John Cusack has always been, since he first came on the movie scene, one of my favorite actors and one whose work I always look forward to, even if the finished product is less than good. Here, though, in director Menno Meyjes saccharine venture, his talents are sorely challenged to overcome the derivative and predictable screenplay by Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins (adapting David Gerrold’s titular novel).
David is obviously forlorn and swinging in the breeze emotionally. When he comes up with the idea to adopt, his sister Liz (Joan Cusack), the voice of reason, warns him about just how difficult a job raising a child can be. He ignores her advice and visits a local orphanage where he (sort of) meets Dennis (Bobby Coleman), a reclusive youngster who spends all his time in a large cardboard box with a slit his only view to the world. Even when David learns that Dennis claims to be from Mars, he persists in trying to endear himself to the boy (at one point in an annoying “tribute” to the Reese’s Pieces scene in “E.T.”).
Of course, David’s attempt to adopt Dennis is met with question and concern, not just from sister Liz but also from the members of the adoption board, headed by Lefkowitz (Richard Schiff). Their concern is that Gordon is not suited for the special needs of a child like Dennis but they reluctantly allow a trial period for the potential father/son.
When Dennis goes home with David, the hopeful “father” bends over backwards to let the boy be himself. Dennis never loses his alien cloak, though, and David becomes increasingly frustrated with the child. He uses his imagination to bring Dennis out of his fantasy shell but his work, a promised sequel to his very popular recent book, is going nowhere, much to the chagrin of his publisher, Mimi (Angelica Huston). Things get iffy on both the parenting and career fronts for the author as he follows through with his plans.
I did not read David Gerrold’s novel, but I do know when a screenplay is pushing my buttons. I came out of seeing “Martian Child” feeling bruised all over from all of those said pushed buttons. While I like Cusack (not at his best here), I found that the casting and direction of young Bobby Coleman to be a failed attempt at playing cute. The exaggerated makeup (I guess that pasty face, seeming collagen-enhanced lips and overly made up eyes (as if Dennis cries the entire time he is off screen)) is annoying but the boy’s cloying line delivery made me cringe. I thought Dennis to be more creepy than cute and the character single-handedly turned me off from “Martian Child.”
The veteran supporting cast, including John’s real sis Joan, Amanda Peet (in a tacked on-feeling character role), Sophie Okonedo (as the orphanage director), Oliver Platt (as his book agent) and the always reliable Richard Schiff, do their best with the material at hand but that material feels forced and artificial.
Techs are solid but they cannot overcome to treacle-encased script that made me want the film to be over. A story that has me checking the time, frequently, is telling. That I did not lose myself in the supposedly emotion-driven tale is also telling and it tells me that “Martian Child” is not aimed at the discerning filmgoer but those that do not mind being manipulated. I give it a C.
Laura did not see this movie.
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