A quiet family drama from director Menno Meyjes, "Martian Child" stars John Cusack as David (John Cusack), a sci-fi writer who lost his wife a couple of years prior. Early in the movie, he chats with pal Harlee (Amanda Peet) about adopting a child, and while he's not sure if he's capable of taking care of a kid, she responds that her mother raised 5 kids - badly - but she never stopped to worry if she could. He gets a "voice from the trenches" from his sister, Liz (Joan Cusack), who knows what it's like to be a parent (she calls her two boys "Omen 1 and Omen 2") and doesn't recommend it - especially on his own.
Despite his sister's warnings, he still ponders the idea, and a local orphanage worker named Sophie (Sophie Okonedo) believes she has the right kid for him - a little boy named Dennis (Bobby Coleman). Dennis is a cute little kid who has a few differences from the others: he believes he's from Mars, and sits in a box all day because the sun bothers him.
Yet, despite the kid's oddities, he still takes him home and awkwardly tries to figure out how to raise a kid who only eats Lucky Charms and who largely wants to sit in the dark all day. The picture's middle ground largely has David and Dennis trying to befriend one another and him making some attempts to learn about what actually makes the kid tick. These scenes are pleasant enough and well-acted, but the movie spins its wheels looking for a point.
Some scenes are simply too predictable, and director Meyjes tries a little too hard to turn on the waterworks in the audience, pulling at the heartstrings a little too aggressively. The picture can be rather melodramatic at times (and the whole message of how it's good to be different isn't delivered in a way that's exactly subtle), and cutting back on that would have been beneficial. Another big problem is Peet's character, as the movie isn't sure whether or not it wants her to be the romantic interest or not.
This is a movie where I can only fault the writing, which - for a rather imaginative idea - seems frequently on the bland side. The acting, however, is actually good - this is a movie that is very well-cast and the performances elevate the somewhat lackluster material. One of the best actors that John Cusack has to play off of is, oddly enough, his sister - the two are terrifically funny together and have great on-screen chemistry, as his dry delivery contrasts perfectly with her more light, goofy ways. They were great together in "Grosse Pointe Blank" and are again here. Oliver Platt also plays off against Cusack well, as does Coleman. Even Amanda Peet, despite being stuck in a thankless role, is enjoyable here.
I didn't seriously dislike "Martian Child" (and I haven't read the book it's based upon, so I can't compare the film to it), but the picture has a very talented cast doing their best with iffy material. Even with fine performances, the picture still started to feel as if it was taking a while to get where it was going.
VIDEO: "Martian Child" is presented by New Line in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality was fine, if a bit unremarkable. Sharpness and detail were pleasing, as while the picture never appeared crystal clear, it looked mostly well-defined and never appeared hazy or blurry. Some tiny instances of artifacting were spotted, as were a few minor instances of edge enhancement. No print flaws were spotted and colors seemed accurately presented and nicely saturated. Skin tones also looked spot-on, as well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 sound presentation was ordinary, as much use of the surrounds isn't necessary with a film like this, nor was there much. Audio does have a nice spread across the front speakers, with the surrounds getting minimal work reinforcing the score. Audio quality was fine, with crisp, well-recorded dialogue and score.
EXTRAS: "Handle With Care: Working with the Martian Child" featurette, audio commentary with writers Seth Bass and Jonathan Tollins, as well as producers Corey Sienega and David Kirschner, "The Real Martian Child" featurette, 14 deleted scenes (no commentary), trailer and sneak peeks for other titles from New Line.
Final Thoughts: "Martian Child" offers a solid cast who deliver good performances, but it's all in service of a screenplay that is just too vanilla. The DVD presentation offers good audio/video quality, as well as a nice helping of extras. Still, this one just gets a light rental recommendation for fans of the actors.
The Film C+