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Perfect match A single guy and a boy who thinks he's from Mars

Most parents wouldn't have a difficult time believing that their kids are from another planet.

Having a child who believes he's a Martian, however, is another story. If the child sits in an oversized box all day hiding from the sun, it's a concern. And if he's an orphan in need of a loving home, well, then you've got a problem.

"Martian Child," adapted from the David Gerrold novel, is a sweet movie that turns the familiar story of a troubled child thrust into a single person's life on its head -- and then some. There's no gorgeous, career-driven woman who finds her maternal instincts ("Raising Helen") here, nor a man-boy who finally grows up ("Big Daddy"). There is, instead, a grown-up movie with a wonderful heart, a sweet sense of humor and a nice balance of emotional turmoil that tugs at your feelings (and tear ducts) without being cloyingly sentimental.

John Cusack, who owns the role of the sensitive guy, plays David, a successful author who wants to fulfill his late wife's dream of adopting a child. Though he argues with himself about bringing a child into the world, David realizes (with a thought sure to make your heart skip a beat), "how do you argue with the logic of loving one who is already here?"

The orphanage wants to pair David with Dennis (Bobby Coleman), a weird kid who thinks he's from Mars. It's a perfect match, actually: David writes science-fiction, Dennis lives it. David slowly warms to the unseen kid in the box and, with offerings of sunscreen and sunglasses, he's able to lure Dennis out of the box.

Dennis is a heartbreaker, standing there with his face whitened by globs of SPF 45, carrying an umbrella for shade, weighed down by an antigravity belt so he doesn't float away and speaking in a barely audible whisper. But K-Pax Jr. is also a bit of Dennis the Menace with a penchant for stirring up trouble and taking things (OK, stealing). This isn't going to be an easy transition for either David or Dennis, but that difficult journey is what makes the final destination all the more fulfilling.

There is a nice supporting cast of characters. Cusack's sister Joan once again plays his sister who, once again, has all the best lines such as "kids are mosquitoes sucking the life out of you." Oliver Platt is also there for laughs as David's nervous manager.

But the story smartly focuses on David and Dennis, two fragile souls in deep need of the other. It was refreshing, in fact, that the "love interest" storyline with the lovely Amanda Peet was kept to a friendship (even though it's obvious that they'll end up together after the film ends).

Cusack previously worked with director Menno Meyjes on "Max," a movie about an art dealer's relationship with Adolf Hitler. Though "Martian Child" is world's away from that film, Meyjes understands that Cusack's understated vulnerability is his strength and exactly what this film needed to avoid tasting of saccharine and a false heart. The result is a down-to-earth movie that believes in people being who they are, instead of who other people want them to be.




3 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: John Cusack, Bobby Coleman and Joan Cusack

DIRECTOR: Menno Meyjes

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

RATING: PG for thematic elements and mild language.

THE LOWDOWN: A widower adopts a boy who believes he's from Mars.

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