"Martian Child" is past the point of heartwarming. It is an explosion of cliched, Hollywood themes -- love, family, acceptance, themes that would be utterly stale if not for the film's artificial sweetening.
After a cute and fluffy introductory narration, we learn that David Gordon (John Cusack) grew up dreaming of alien worlds and outer space, launching him into a successful career as a science-fiction writer. However, the death of Gordon's wife leaves him distraught, teetering on the edge of hysteria, but not completely lonely. He still has his faithful dog; his close friend, Harlee (Amanda Peet); and his sister-in-law, Liz (Joan Cusack), played by Cusack's actual sister -- a casting move that Cusack fans could've predicted six films ago.
Despite the fact that he is dripping with reluctance and personal insecurities, Gordon decides to adopt Dennis (Bobby Coleman), an 8-year-old orphan, who claims he's from Mars. Gordon questions him, "Why did they send you here?" To which Dennis responds, "To join a family and to learn human beingness." Dennis is eccentric, to say the least, but his unconventional ways provide us with sugary spoonfuls of humor throughout the movie. He reaches out to the audience's pathos -- pulling at their heartstrings and epitomizing an authentic image of naivete and innocence, which makes him impossible not to love.
Of course, Gordon becomes overwhelmed. The rest of the film is an hour of trials and tribulations between him and his new son. But the situations are all so cute and charming. Cusack and Coleman are a dynamic on-screen duo, which makes up for the lack of a consistently evident supporting cast.
As David Gordon comes to love this brilliant, fascinating boy, the boy also begins to love himself. A subplot romance between Gordon and his friend, Harlee, gives the audience something else to focus on besides Dennis eating bowl after bowl of Lucky Charms and taking Polaroid pictures. This confirms that Gordon is beginning to move on from his wife's death, diving into the beauty of life once more, accompanied by his new son and an overflowing heart.
Although "Martian Child" shines the spotlight long, hard and outrageously bright on the emotional facets of life, it is a decent movie. We've seen the basic premise before (does "About a Boy" sound familiar?), but in a less schmaltzy approach. It seems to be more of a "curl up on the sofa with a box of tissues" movie, but regardless of where you watch it, it's the same sentimental, mushy, love and family film that moviegoers always appear to enjoy.
Kathryn DeLong is a junior at Clarence High school.
Review: 2 1/2 stars (out of four)