Opens Nov. 2
John and Joan Cusack are up to old tricks in director Menno Meyjes' Martian Child, a screen adaptation of David Gerrold's novel of the same name. Even as David's (John Cusack) career succeeds beyond his expectations, he finds no joy in it, as he reels from the death of his wife. Searching for meaning, fulfillment, and other pretty nontangible words that Hollywood is so fond of throwing around, David adopts a troubled boy named Dennis (Bobby Coleman) against the advice of his sister Liz (Joan Cusack). Dennis suffers from--among other pathos--a firm conviction that he is a Martian, and David, being a science-fiction writer, shares the unique position of being "appropriate" to parent him and inclined to entertain suspicions that he really is from Mars. Flitting in and out of the story is David's ambiguously platonic friend Harlee (Amanda Peet), who provides the requisite quasi-romantic interest.
While the movie proves exceedingly sweet and eager to please, it's not as disastrous as it may appear, given its strong dialogue and cadre of romance veterans. The Cusacks do their bicker-and-catharsis thing well, as always, and Peet complies reliably with the modest demands made of her. They deliver their recipe-perfect, sugarcoated lines to maximum comic effect, which is to say just enough to elicit a chuckle. To his credit, young Coleman walks an admirable line between cute and disconcerting, doing a better job juggling such contradictions than many actors decades his senior.
First and foremost, Martian Child is a tale about conformity, a palatable enough theme, but it would go down a lot easier if the movie itself were less conformist. It bears the indelible marks of a script resculpted by multiple writers, as every rough edge has been properly sanded and smoothed over to make a nice, safe, family-friendly environment. There's little, if anything, new here, and while the story lends itself well to examining the nature of individuality and social acceptance, Meyjes blaringly announces his intentions instead of leaving a little work to the audience. Lines such as "Is it good to be like everyone else?" and "Why can't you just do what we want you to?" beat you over the head.
Martian Child is cute, occasionally funny, and parades its heart on its sleeve, adhering to every time-honored tradition in the romantic-dramedy genre. The usual fans of such decadent, fluffy pastries will enjoy it, but obliging dates would be wise to save themselves a few bucks and rent the DVD.