Thursday, November 8, 2007

Martian Child Weighed Down by Earthly Lameness

Martian Child

Release: 11/02/2007
1 hour, 48 minutes

Second Run Seats ($$)

Remember the John Cusack of the 80’s--the somewhat eccentric, disarmingly witty though not-so-stunning looking high school kid that is so nice that he only deserves to be with the most popular and beautiful girl? Well, it’s a new millennium, and Cusack’s all growed up. Now, his mildly bizarre but still sincere characters have shared that perfect life with that beautiful and equally sincere woman, a woman who is now dead (or has left him because their child has died), and he must battle the tears to continue a meaningful existence. The one thing that hasn’t changed from the ‘80’s is the occasional gig big sis Joan gets in these flicks.

The most recent bone thrown Joan’s way is to play the neurotic older sister (a stretch I know) to a widowed sci-fi writer by the name of David Gordon. David is debating whether to adopt a delusional child; a potential foster-care lifer named Dennis, portrayed by Bobby Coleman. Once Dennis moves in, David realizes his out-of-this-world imagination may not be enough to handle the boy who thinks he’s from Mars.

“Martian Child” is an adaptation of a novel by David Gerrold, creator of the infamous “Star Trek” creatures known as Tribbles. Gerrold reportedly had producers sloughing through several iterations of this script before settling on a version capable of harnessing the Cusack power. The final product is a story that as inoffensive and uplifting as imaginable, to the point it forsakes being interesting. Cusack does a commendable job and the snaggle-toothed child is cute (albeit weird), but that just isn’t enough. The only real threats to this match-made-in-fiction are a seemingly callous and lonely social worker, played by Richard Schiff (I am Sam), and David’s own work stress. Not only does “Martian Child” suffer from a weak conflict-resolution structure, the director’s off-kilter timing leaves audiences squirming through the passing minutes.

Dirty Undies

PG fare is always insufferable for its complete lack of Dirty Undies and this is no exception. Sure, we have the bright-eyed, toothy face of Amanda Peet (Identity) to gaze upon, but the grown-woman-with-ponytails-and-overalls fantasy can only take you so far. At least we have cameos from Howard Hesseman and Anjelica Huston to distract us.

The Money Shot

While “Martian Child” suffers from a severe case of predictability and dullness, Cusack fans should enjoy watching the wunderkind master the next phase of his acting career. Let’s just hope that this film, along with the recent “1408,” does not signal the beginning of the end because I’m curious to see the evolution of Lloyd Dobler well into his golden years.

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