Who's your daddy? John Cusack, from the looks of things.
In films released this year, the actor has played a divorced dad mourning his daughter's death in a haunted hotel room (1408
) and a single father of two whose wife is killed while serving in Iraq (Grace Is Gone
is gravitating toward these roles because they quench a sudden paternal yearning or Hollywood casting agents collectively have decided he's finally the right age to play a parent.
The trend continues with Martian Child, Menno Meyjes
' fatally schmaltzy family drama about a widowed science-fiction writer named David (Cusack) whose desire to do something "meaningful" with his empty life leads him to the front door of a neighborhood foster home. There he finds shy Dennis (Bobby Coleman
), a socially challenged child sequestered in a cardboard box who tells concerned adults he's visiting our planet from Mars. Article continues below
How will these not-quite-men pull themselves out from their respective shells? Without spoiling any details, I can assure you a sappy soundtrack of motivational pop will lace the director's warmed-to-mediocrity bonding moments. Dennis, we're told, only eats Lucky Charms. Cut to Cusack and Coleman filling a grocery cart to the brim with cereal boxes. But that's not enough. Meyjes must follow them to the cashier so they can tell the skeptical clerk, "We're Lucky Charms guys." Goose the audience's seats and pray for needed laughter.
The inexplicable happenstances just keep coming. Dennis can taste colors (this talent is tested using product-placed M&Ms). He can converse with David's dying dog. While attending a baseball game, David wonders aloud if the batter can manage a home run when, lo and behold, the crack of the bat sends the ball to the left field bleachers. Dennis sheepishly inquires, "Do you want the team to win the game, as well?" Dennis finally explains to David that he can grant a limited amount of "Martian wishes." You can probably guess what mine would have been.
Recognizable actors shrug off superfluous roles. Amanda Peet
and Joan Cusack alternate scenes as Cusack's love interest and sister, respectively. A streamlined script could have assigned the sum total of their lines to one role. Oliver Platt
overacts as David's flustered literary agent. Richard Schiff plays the clichéd social worker, the one who checks on David and Dennis at the most inopportune times.
Eventually, Meyjes' low-key cast eventually gives up on the material. Young Coleman sulks to Cusack's level, rasping his quiet lines with a damaged voice. Couple that delivery with Coleman's pale skin and oversized sunglasses, and the poor child looks like the illegitimate son of Willy Wonka and Andy Warhol.
Martian does raise a few interesting questions before retreating to the safest path. What if people who fit in are the odd ones out? And at what point in a child's life is imagination considered a bad thing? Instead of exploring these issues, screenwriters Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins neuter their creative premise to deliver the fairly predictable cornball fluff we anticipate when off-center loners find a middle ground. For a movie about a potential alien kid, Martian is pretty down to earth.