Martian Child

Dir. Menno Meyjes, writ. Seth Bass, Jonathan Tolins, David Gerrold (novel); feat. John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Amanda Peet, Bobby Coleman

The second John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler hoisted a boom-box over his head to blast “In Your Eyes” at Diane Court’s window in Say Anything, he solidified a certain image of himself in the minds of an entire generation — that of the average guy-next-door with an above-average knack for intelligent ramblings, way-homer witticisms, and puppy-eyed vulnerability. Frankly, it’s the only way many of us will take our Cusack, served up á la quirk, and his turn in Martian Child doesn’t disappoint.

Flash forward 18 years and Dobler could very well have become someone like Martian Child’s David, pontificating on how growing up as an outcast inspired the alien creature of his sci-fi novels. Cusack’s David then lopes across the set of a movie adaptation in progress to plead with his agent, “Where is the pathos? The scene needs pathos!” Pathos, as it turns out, shows up full force elsewhere.

As David, newly widowed, continues solo with his plans to adopt, he takes in Dennis, a child who’s been hiding in a box marked “fragile, handle with care.” Instead of twiddling thumbs at the Court’s dinner table while arguing that kickboxing is the sport of the future in rapid-fire musings, Cusack in Martian Child ends up twiddling thumbs across from a panel of social-service workers while arguing that a sci-fi writer is the best equipped to deal with a child convinced he’s from Mars.

Though the premise may sound a little like the unfortunate blink-and-you-missed-it release of K-Pax, Martian Child’s spot-on performances by Cusack and Bobby Coleman (as Dennis) bring the film nearer to the charm and emotional gravity of About A Boy. Coleman’s feather-weight frame and wispy voice lend otherworldly credibility to this wary, detached character whose reservation melts away by degrees, and Cusack, debating the perfect width of the gap in Dennis’s bedroom door or choking back sobs over the death of his dog, gives us another guy-next-door to cheer on.