December 05, 2007 -- Versatile actor John Cusack has starred in all kinds of movies lately, from comedies, “High Fidelity,” to thrillers, “Identity,” to horror films, “1403.” Lately, he's been doing tear-jerkers and of course he's good in those, too. The most recent one I've seen is “Martian Child,” in which Cusack plays David, a widowed science fiction author who adopts a young child, Dennis (played by Bobby Coleman of “Friends With Money”) who thinks he is from Mars. The other tear-jerker he's been recently in is called “Grace is Gone.” I haven't seen that one yet.
It takes a while for “Martian Child” to take off. The reasons given for David to adopt Dennis are not very convincing, but once David and Dennis finally get together, the film starts to click. They are two kindred spirits. As David's girlfriend, Harlee (Amanda Peet of “Syriana”) says, Dennis has an “old soul,” and so has David. Both of them had similar problems growing up. Both were outcasts as children. David thinks he may be the one person in the world who truly understands Dennis, and he may be right. Various other characters appear in the film. The purpose of most of these characters is to threaten the relationship between Dennis and David. One character who is somewhat supportive is David's sister, Liz (Joan Cusack of “School of Rock,” John Cusack's real sister). She tries to persuade David not to adopt Dennis, but once he does, she tries to help the two as best as she can. David's agent, Jeff (Oliver Platt), also tries to help, but seems lost. Platt is a fine actor, but the screenplay gives him too little to do.
It is a pretty good idea for a movie, but the screenplay comes up a bit short in executing that idea. The plot is uneven and clumsy. The screenplay could have used a lot more polish. The scenes which take place on the set of a science fiction film could have added a lot to the film, but they end up being throwaway scenes. For instance, wouldn't it have been interesting to see Dennis' reaction to the movie set? We don't get to see that. The actors are good enough to rescue the project and make it worth watching. Mostly, what works is Cusack and Coleman. When they are on screen together something interesting always seems to happen, whether they are doing weird Martian dances, discussing the virtues of baseball (where you only have to get a hit 30 percent of the time to be a star), making “Martian Wishes,” tasting colors, or just talking about how to navigate the strange culture of America. This tale of two quirky people who form an unlikely family is greater than the sum of its parts, thanks to some very good performances. This film rates a C+.
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