Based on the novelette of the same name, Martian Child is — despite some glaring problems — a good movie to take the kids to see. For starters, young Dennis, who claims to be from outer space, will make them laugh. Plus, by the film’s end, you’ll likely tilt your head to one side and think, “Yeah, my child could easily be from another planet.”
Bobby Coleman plays Dennis, a pale little guy who lives in an orphanage and literally believes he’s from Mars. He wears a taped-together belt made of batteries to prevent himself from floating away. On his “mission,” he takes pictures of things with his Polaroid camera and only eats Lucky Charms. He also hates sunlight and spends his days under a cardboard box, which is where widower David (John Cusack, 1408) meets him. David is a successful science fiction writer who spends his days missing his wife and attempting to write a sequel to his widely successful novel Dracoban.
David has been considering adoption for a long time, and — though his sister (played by real-life sibling Joan Cusack, War, Inc.) advises otherwise — he chooses Dennis, who reminds David of his own childhood. Soon curious events start to occur — like when Dennis shows he can taste colors — and we begin to wonder if his newly adopted son really isn’t human.
From director Menno Meyjes (Manolete, Max), the main problem with Martian Child — which hits theaters Nov. 2 — is that it never conveys a true father-son relationship. The point is obviously to avoid a “normal” situation, to encourage uniqueness, but a couple examples are necessary to show that Dennis considers David his father, to show that David is getting through. The closest thing we get to this is an over-the-top, unbelievable conclusion in which David comes to the rescue, sappy speech included. There are also the unrealistic scenes involving Child Protective Services, and the fact that Dennis’ need to go to therapy remains completely unacknowledged by all parties involved.
Despite these issues, the acting helps save Martian Child. John Cusack is strong as a grieving widower struggling as a single father, and Joan Cusack steals every scene she’s in with her one-liners. (“Kids are like mosquitoes sucking the life out of you,” she jokes.) Unfortunately Amanda Peet (Syriana), who plays David’s close fri/files/storyimages/and possible love interest, is not used enough. Her character deserves more attention.
Most of that attention instead goes to Coleman. In a role that could have become annoying really fast, he is always likeable as Dennis, whether describing baseball or hanging upside down to fight Earth’s gravitational pull. And whether or not he is from Mars, Coleman helps us realize that all children are like aliens, learning about the world for the very first time.
(out of four)