MARTIAN CHILD (Menno Meyjes). 107 minutes. Opens Friday (November 2). Rating: NN
With his narrowly set eyes and gift for conveying suspicion with a raised eyebrow, John Cusack has always played a convincing skeptic. But his bullshit detector must have been malfunctioning when he read the script for Martian Child.
Cusack plays David Gordon, a science-fiction writer and recent widower who fills the void in his life by adopting Dennis (Bobby Coleman), a damaged, isolated boy who claims to come from Mars. With the help of his friend (Amanda Peet) and sister (Joan Cusack), David tries to help Dennis connect with the Earth world while honouring his imagination.
Adapted from the book by David Gerrold, Martian Child sometimes hints at the E.T.-like fantasy or romantic comedy it could have been. But director Menno Meyjes opts for an earnest, sombre tone that sucks the fun out of the material.
The actors certainly don't seem to be having any fun. John Cusack manages a bland, Tom Hanks-like sweetness, but Peet is reduced to a smiling cipher. Joan Cusack fights the hardest to get out of Meyjes's straitjacket, but it's painful to watch her performance devolve into a series of shrieks and twitches.
Ultimately, Martian Child is a film that wants to deliver a message about individuality and imagination but doesn't contain enough of either.