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Martian Child

The Boy Who Fell To Earth

In Martian Child, John Cusack plays a grieving widower, David, who finds himself gravitating towards an eccentric young orphan, Dennis, who spends most of his waking hours outside hiding in a cardboard box. To boot, Dennis (Bobby Coleman) also thinks he’s from Mars. Fortunately, David’s a bit eccentric himself and has a gift for writing science fiction, so this odd match just may have some potential. Can humans and Martians coexist? Is a human father really capable of raising a Martian son?

As far as human fathers go, you could do worse than John Cusack. His turn as a grieving widower is believable enough without being overwrought. Then again, Cusack brings an air of authenticity to just about every role. The one challenge with Cusack’s performance is the rapid change of heart he has about adopting a child. Initially reluctant and apprehensive, it seems all David needs is some time to stare at photos of his deceased wife to make an abrupt about face.

Enter the eccentric young Dennis. David deserves kudos from the get go for coaxing Dennis out of his cardboard box. Slathered with SPF 45 and a pair of dark sunglasses, Dennis seems almost human. If only he could be weaned off his habit of taking Polaroids constantly and wearing a "weight belt" to account for Earth’s weak gravity. Bobby Coleman equals (if not exceeds) Cusack’s performance bringing an otherworldliness and pathos to his role as the orphaned (and clearly damaged) Dennis.

What director Menno Meyjes has delivered in Martian Child is in some respects a pre-pubescent version of K-Pax. The problem for anyone watching Martian Child who has already seen K-Pax is you pretty much know from the get go how things are going to turn out. Despite some of Dennis’ seeming remarkable abilities, you can never really believe the whole "Martian child" bit is anything more than an elaborately constructed defense mechanism (and it’s pretty much stated explicitly in the film).

The kind of behavior Dennis exhibits is at times quite troubling and indicative of problems that nothing short of years of therapy might address. Thus, Dennis’ rapid transformation into someone who seems more like a normally socialized child is a bit problematic and makes it more than challenging to suspend disbelief. David’s a good father, but he’s no miracle worker.

In the end, it is the absence of any surprises and the abundance of formulaic clichés that prevents Martian Child from being anything more than a vaguely charming drama about a widower and an orphan looking for a family. If it weren’t for the solid performances (and chemistry) of Cusack and Coleman, there would be very little to recommend in this film.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars