‘Martian Child’ a cute little picture — except for that annoying little kid

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, November 1, 2007 4:56pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

“Martian Child” has the same outline as “About a Boy,” but the emotional axis is reversed. In “About a Boy,” Hugh Grant played a single adult man who absolutely didn’t want a young child in his life; in “Martian Child,” John Cusack is a single adult man who absolutely wants a young child in his life.

Cusack’s character is a successful science fiction writer, still grieving after the loss of his wife a couple of years before. He wants to adopt, but the antisocial 6-year-old (Bobby Coleman) he’s chosen has a problem.

The kid thinks he’s from Mars. He acts like it, too. Or at least his behavior is weird enough to be from another planet.

From this thin wisp of a situation, “Martian Child” actually manages to create some endearing scenes. I kept thinking, “Gee, I’d really like this movie, if only it weren’t about some annoying kid pretending to be from Mars.”

It’s that kind of frustrating project. For instance, when we see Cusack with platonic friend Amanda Peet, there’s no way to believe these two wouldn’t have gotten together already.

And yet, when they do enjoy a first fumbling kiss and awkward aftermath, the scene is beautifully played and amusingly written.

At its best, the film has a breezy, lived-in quality that makes it easy to take. And nobody does funny-gruff-sensitive better than John Cusack, who seems to want to push himself emotionally with his recent run of movies. (His sister Joan Cusack plays his sister here, as she occasionally does in films.)

Amanda Peet doesn’t have a lot to do — man, does Hollywood know how to waste these bright young actresses — but she does it nicely. Anjelica Huston, Cusack’s memorable co-star in “The Grifters,” returns here for a small but key role.

The director is Menno Meyjes, who made the truly original comedy-drama “Max,” also with John Cusack. That was the one about the young Hitler in post-WWI Germany, a strangely compelling film and a fine balancing act.

“Martian Child” never quite gets in balance (and post-production re-shoots, reportedly with a different director, might have had something to do with that). It’s better at dealing with Earth, not Mars.

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