As a filmgoer, there are some films you see advertised that you just know you’re gonna hate. The advantage of being a filmgoer in this situation rather than a film critic is that you can simply choose not to see it.

So, when it comes to a movie like Martian Child, I will admit that I come to the screen with a heavy prejudice. Of course, that prejudice is not unfounded. After all, I’d seen the trailer at least a half-dozen times, and that’s supposed to give you a feel for the film. The problem is that when I watched the trailer for Martian Child, that feeling flopped.

The movie is about a widowed science fiction writer named David (John Cusack). At the urging of his friend, he adopts an emotionally-troubled child named Dennis (Bobby Coleman). The biggest problem with this new match-up is that Dennis thinks he’s from Mars. Of course, this is a result of psychological scarring from being abandoned by his original parents and any foster parents he came across over the years.

Everyone thinks that David will make a great father for the child because his business if fantasy. He writes about Mars, so he should be able to connect with a child who thinks he’s from Mars. Sounds logical, no? It’s a good thing they weren’t adopting out to Rachel Ray, or perhaps she would have eaten the kid, which would have made a movie far more entertaining than what we got with this one.

Pick any word you choose to describe an overly sweet movie, saccharinely, cheesy, sappy, schmaltzy, any word will do. This is the best description you can get for this movie. In this rare sense, Hollywood showed us in the previews exactly what you get with the film proper.

Of course, if you like these emotionally-brittle family dramas, you’ll eat this film up. But for a confirmed cynic like myself, it was torture to sit through the movie.

Cusack, who is normally a fiercely engaging actor, just phones in his role as the angst-filled writer and wannabe dad. The kid who plays Dennis isn’t particularly engaging. He’s cute, but he relies too much on that cuteness. Overall, I never felt we got into the kid’s head. He just batted his big eyes and pouted his lips and dared the audience not to fall in love with him.

Well, I took that dare, and he lost.

The movie itself is loaded with every cinematic cliche I could think of for this genre. We’ve got the struggling writer whose agent is tracking him down throughout the film. We’ve got the grumpy social workers who threaten to snatch the kid back when David doesn’t get the kid believing he’s an actual Earthling. It’s got the hopeful relationship between David and his dead wife’s sister. Heck, it’s even got the dead wife subplot, which we’ve seen in practically every Disney movie ever made.

In the end, this film fails because it exists completely in a fantasy world of its own. Too many things happen that are unrealistic (like social workers expecting a full psychological cure over the course of a few weeks) or just plain silly (like an adoption agency run out of a woman’s house).

A lot of bait is thrown on the hook for this movie, but none of it enticed me to bite. Rather, I squirmed in my seat, praying for the end of the film… or at least a nice nude scene with Amanda Peet. I got only one wish: the movie ended eventually.

The Upside: The movie is in focus.

The Downside: Dennis doesn’t turn out to be a real Martian who indiscriminately vaporizes people.

On the Side: The character in the original story was actually gay.

Grade: C-

Saw 4 Poster Release Date: November 2, 2007
Rated: PG for thematic elements and mild language.
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: John Cusak, Bobby Coleman, Amanda Peet, Joan Cusack
Director: Menno Meyjes
Screenplay: Seth E. Bass, Jonathan Tolins, David Gerrold (novel)
Studio: New Line Cinema
Official Website: MartianChild.com

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