Cusack Cracks

MARTIAN CHILD
Running Time 106 minutes
Written by Jonathan Tolins and Seth Bass
Directed by Menno Meyjes
Starring John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Oliver Platt and Angelica Huston

This whimsical Froot Loop with the repellent title Martian Child is almost more than anyone should be asked to relate this side of a mental-hospital competency hearing. It stars John Cusack, whose most consistently reliable talent for years has been his unfailing ability to choose movies nobody wants to see, as a freaky wackjob who escapes from reality in the plots of his sci-fi novels. Widowed and lonely, he bonds with an orphan who is another freaky wackjob about 30 years younger and three feet tall, who lives in a cardboard box because he’s afraid of the sun. You see, he’s actually convinced he’s a child from Mars. Since he’s an expert in fantasy and make-believe is what he does for a living, Mr. Cusack begins adoption proceedings immediately. His sister (played by his real sister, Joan Cusack) struggles to pretend this is somehow normal, but it’s his brother-in-law I’m rooting for, when he says, “As far as I’m concerned, they’re all from Mars—at least your kid admits it.”

Moving right along. The kid refuses to eat anything but Lucky Charms, and some of the things he does probably would appeal to E.T. He can wish for a home run and it happens. He does extraterrestrial dance steps, talks in tongues and scans the skies intensely for signs of the mother ship that will take him home. Pop goes along by strapping the kid into ankle weights and gravity belts to keep him from floating away. But by the time he breaks all the dishes and sprays the kitchen walls with ketchup, you begin to wonder if the father isn’t from the red planet himself.

His frustrated agent (Oliver Platt) and bitchy publisher (Anjelica Huston) are onto something here, like Harry Potter in outer space; but to their dismay, instead of turning in his next book, which is a sequel to his last book, Cusack starts writing about his little boy’s alternate universe instead. The kid tries to be normal and fit in. He learns to play baseball. But he’s really just marking time until his “mission” on the planet is over. O.K., for a while you think maybe he is from Mars, and I guess I missed the point because I couldn’t wait for him to return there. Then the questions: Is he an alien, or just a bizarre brat looking for love as a metaphor for the mystery of the universe? Mr. Cusack drags himself through it bleary-eyed, badly in need of a bathrobe.

Martian Child was directed by Menno Meyjes, who wrote the screenplay for The Color Purple, and written by the distinguished team Jonathan Tolins and Seth Bass, who penned the extraordinary The Twilight of the Golds. How could so many good people go so wrong?

Cusack Cracks