Martian Child

New Line Cinema

Review in a Hurry:  It could have been so easy for this story, about a single man adopting a troubled kid, to enter schmaltzville. But John Cusack manages to deliver plenty of warm fuzzies—without the sugar shock.

The Bigger Picture:  David (Cusack) has all the marks of a romantic hero: Poignant singlehood, protective yet funny relatives (real-life sis Joan Cusack plays onscreen sib Liz), a great career, big beautiful house and cute, earthy friends like Harlee (Amanda Peet). He even has a golden retriever.

Clearly, according to the rules of romantic comedies, he's ready to find love.

But David isn't looking for romantic love. Instead, he wants to honor his late wife's wishes and adopt a child. Enter the deceptively cute Dennis (Bobby Coleman), who insists he's from Mars and hides in a cardboard box. Considering David's a successful sci-fi writer, it's a perfect match. Or maybe not, for Dennis isn't just quirky, he's truly a very troubled child.

The story's grounded in the truth of what it's like to rescue a kid from an aimless life, and Dennis' Martian delusions underline the heavy weight of his abandonment issues. At some point he becomes more creepy than cute, and Cusack's performance reflects both a stubborn love and a paralyzing fear. The movie's über-adorable moments are actually a welcoming counterbalance to this single dad's dramas.

Martian Child is based on sci-fi writer David Gerrold's novella, inspired by his own experience adopting a child. Perhaps that's why the movie seldom tries too hard to wring tears and drama—the unvarnished truth is enough to affect and inspire.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  The few flights of fancy in the movie flop miserably. For one, the nail-biter climax is overcooked melodrama ripped off from so many dramas before it. It's almost embarrassing. And Richard Schiff's Scrooge-ish adoption adviser seems unrealistically opposed to a wealthy, kind, intelligent, work-from-home single man adopting a hard-to-place kid. Of course, every feel-good movie needs a villain, and Schiff carries the burden with flair.

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