Friday, November 30, 2007

Margot at the Wedding

You know I can handle a chick flick, but Margot at the Wedding is a chick flick on speed, (and not that good of one).

The film is centered on Margot (Nicole Kidman) an overbearing and smothering loudmouth who drags her child (Zane Pais) to her sister Pauline’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding, not to celebrate to to break it up and find some time cheat on her husband (John Turturro) to bone an old school chum (Ciarán Hinds).

Subplots of the film include the averageness of Pauline’s fiancé Malcolm (Jack Black), the cute and seductive neighborhood girl (Halley Feiffer), suggestions of child abuse and incest, and the increasingly odd and crazy argument with the neighbors over the fate of the family’s favorite tree.

Aside from being really, really boring, and having large stretches that may make your brain explode, the film has several flaws. First, and most problematic is the character of Margot herself. The movie (much like Halle Berry‘s character in Things We Lost in the Fire) pushes all bounds of common sense and logic to make her as unlikable, but not downright evil, as possible.

Since she isn’t evil we can’t hate her, but since she is such a bitch we can’t like her either and so we are left not caring about what happens to the central character in the film; that’s bad. Margot’s constant behavior and demeanor, which become more predictable and cartoonish as the film goes on, also narrows the choices of where the plot can go to two choices - alone and miserable or forgiven and redeemed. I won’t tell you which the film choices, but I will say it’s as unbelievable as the rest of the film.

Also an issue is the style of which the film was shot. Several sequences are shot with little or no light and are hard to decipher what is happening (it doesn’t help that the plot makes little to no sense during many of these moments). The film tries to base it’s story on the illogicality of female logic, and so leaves anyone without ovaries completely in the dark. Now I’m all for use of shadow and light in interesting ways (The Third Man, Clint Eastwood‘s later films like Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) but when it’s done poorly it doesn’t look artistic; it looks crappy and juvenile.

The film tries to balance a horrifically depressing tale with some comic zingers from Jack Black, but his character is more of a prop to get the sisters together and discussing their issues than a real character and so much of his performance is wasted. Oh, and the zingers, sadly, don’t have much zing.

Are the performances good? Well, yes, but only because the film is designed solely as Oscar Bait to get these actresses Oscar nods. Scenes exist throughout the film not because they are part of the narrative but only to show off the talent of the stars.

Get a testosterone patch before you go in because this film has more estrogen than any Lifetime mid-afternoon double feature. It’s a complete loss and disappointment only existing to shell for some Oscar gold.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


What’s Thanksgiving without a turkey? Hitman is exactly is good as you would expect from a flick adapted off a series of video games. It’s not the mind-numbing disaster Doom was (thank God! read that review), but it’s not exactly good either.

Timothy Olyphant stars as “Agent 47,” a bald hitman with a bar code stamped on the back of his head. He works for a secret organization performing assassination and murder for hire, that is until (for no apparent reason) he’s sold out by the people who own him and he goes on the run with a whore (Olga Kurylenko) owned by the man he must kill and avoid capture by the Interpol agent on his tail (Dougray Scott).

Here is the perfect example of video game logic versus screenplay logic. In a video game I’m sure it’s exceptable to have an assassin who sticks out like a sore thumb (I don’t know about you but I think I’d notice a guy with a bar code tattooed on the back of his head), but here, even though our guy takes no steps to conceal himself, he’s almost impossible to find. And when he is caught more logic goes out the window. In one scene he faces off against three other men with guns only for all of them to drop their weapons and pull out identical twin swords (out of their collective asses, since they couldn’t conceal such weapons on them) and fight. You know you are in trouble when you’re watching a scene and asking “Why is this in the film?” and the only answer available is “Because it was in the video game.”

Aside from huge logic holes, a background story which is never developed, and some pretty shitty acting across the board the film also gives us no reason to care. Our main character is an emotionless killer, neither evil nor good, seemingly invincible and without care. We are given no reason to root for, or even against, him as the plot trudges on to its inevitable conclusion. There’s no drama or tension here as our bland video game character is never truly challenged or put in danger he can’t escape from. Even most of the action scenes are tame. And the only interesting part of the story, this organization which trains and brands assassins from childhood, is never explored. This is a second-rate xXx (a movie, by the way, I didn’t care for either) complete with just enough explosions and partial nudity to try and pull in the dumber part of the bored 17-20 audience with absolutely nothing else to do on a Friday night.

There’s just nothing here. Like the many films before it, and the many yet to come, video game movies (aside from a select few) just don’t play on film. When taken out of a video game world the stories often translate poorly, or as in this case, don’t translate at all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

August Rush

“I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales.”

There are two stories here. The first involves a young orphan (Freddie Highmore) with untapped musical talent who leaves the orphanage to “follow the music” and find his parents. His journey leads to new friends (Leon G. Thomas III, Jamia Simone Nash), a stint as a street musician under the control of the Fagin-esque Wizard (Robin Williams, in a cowboy hat), and a trip to Juliard where his talent blossoms.

The second story (shown mostly in flashbacks) involves cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and rock band member Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Their chance meeting a decade before was dashed by Lyla’s father (William Sadler) separating them for years. Lyla’s unexpected pregnancy puts her career at risk and her father snatches up a chance accident to make her believe her son is dead. Jumping back to the present Lyla learns the truth and with the help of a social worker (Terrence Howard) begins to search for the son she’s never met. At the same time across the country Louis facing his own midlife crisis searches out the woman who he still loves.

Let’s start with the problems of the film since they are neither small nor easily overcome. First, the entire Oliver Twist storyline is as dumb as it sounds and is only saved by the small moments it allows our young prodigy to further his music. Williams is ridiculous in what looks like a sort of half-assed Bono meet Fagin impression. Also troubling is the film’s constant and incessant fallback on coincidence that keeps allowing the storyline, which otherwise would stall multiple times, to make giant leaps forward despite all logic to the contrary. How illogical is it? Here’s an example: Lyla’s father signs away her child when she gives birth after a traffic accident. No one questions a comatose woman signing away a baby she never sees and no nurse or doctor ever mentions the child to congratulate her on her son or to discuss her decision to give away the child. Yeah, there’s stretching credibility and there’s fantasy. Add to this the controlling and manipulative nature of the story and you’ve got a film which should be a complete disaster. And yet…

The use of music in everyday life and how music is portrayed as something that gives life meaning and can connect people is incredibly well done. The different types music used in the film from simple to complex, from classical to gospel to rock, all add a unique flavor and sound to the story. It’s when the worlds of Lyla and Louis are filled with music that they are truly alive and find each other. And it’s when they rediscover a piece of themselves and reinvest in their music that their worlds begin to make sense again. Just as the newly anoited August Rush plays in hope of making his parents hear him, they both, separately, play to each other, to their love, and to a child they have never met.

The cast, aside from Williams who does his crazy act doing the best he can with the least interesting character in the film, are terrific. Highmore is the heart and soul of the film. And the casting of Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as tortured lovers is inspired. Both actors possess an ability to convey a hopeful melancholy which plays perfectly on film. These three actors allow us to dismiss some of the clumsiness of the script and invest some time and emotion in the characters.

Even with its many problems the film is, somehow, a joy. It’s sweet, and when it’s not getting in its own way, quite moving. Your brain may reject much of August Rush, but I think your heart will have a grand time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No Country for Old Men

“It’s a mess ain’t it sheriff.”
“If it ain’t it’ll do ‘til the mess gets here

Brutally violent, with eloquently scripted dialogue and sumptuously cinematography No Country for Old Men has all the pieces in place for a great film, but although it’s certainly a very good film it loses much of its momentum over the course of its two-hour running time ending with more of a whimper than a bang.

The story begins when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) discovers the remains of a drug deal gone wrong and finds $2 million in cash. A moment of conscience leads to him being marked by both sides after the money and LLewelyn sends his wife (Kelly Macdonald) to her mother’s (Beth Grant) as he takes to the road to stay one step ahead of a hitman (Javier Bardem) who knows his name and always seems only one-step behind.

The film begins in terrific fashion and the dialogue is perfect, especially the simple scenes between Llewelyn and Carla Jean (MacDonald). I wish she had a larger role in the film because the two work so well together. Bardem puts in a strong performance as the mysterious sociopathic hitman.

If I have a complaint with Bardem it’s how we learn too much about his character and his mysterious dread is replaced by an almost cartoonish Tarrantino ridiculousness that takes much of the menace away from him. And the film has some minor recurring characters (played by Tommy Lee Jones and Woody Harrelson) that, although well performed, seem to keep getting in the way of the main storyline in an attempt to do the now ever popular Crash-style juggling of different stories of individuals each dealing with their own issues (read that review).

My other complaints are harder to describe as they involve events from the films final act and to list them here I would have to give away too many secrets of the film. Instead let me say simply that the film runs out of gas well before it ends and leaves many questions unanswered before ending with a discussion of a cryptic dream sequence that left me more bored than intrigued.

There have been similar films in recent years including the Coen’s own Fargo and Sam Raimi‘s A Simple Plan which do as good a job if not better given similar resources and storylines. The film is certainly good, but I still felt disappointed as it ended. So much of the promise of the film isn’t fulfilled and so many questions and storylines are left up in the air (in a more mainstream Hollywood film I would have expected “To Be Continued” in large caps). The last half-hour of the film, in which many of these questions are ignored, seems rushed as if the film was cut for time and is now missing several crucial scenes. But what the film does well it does very well. It’s a very good film, which could have been great, but still is worth seeing, and discussing. Is it the Coen’s return to glory? Not really, but it’s a good first step.

Friday, November 16, 2007


“I am Beowulf!”

The film follows a condensed, and rushed, variation of the original epic poem. After his hall is attacked by a fearsome creature known as Grendel (Crispin Glover), King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) offers half of his fortune to anyone who can rid his kingdom of the monster. The legendary warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone) arrives, for the glory of defeating the demon.

The film follows Beowulf’s battle with Grendel and his encounter with Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie) in the dark caves of the mountains. Secrets will be unearthed, curses laid down, and Beowulf’s glory will grow - though not without a cost.

In terms of look the film achieves much of what it sets out to do. The appearance of the characters (each taken from the individual actors) is the best I’ve seen human beings done in this type of computer animation. Also worth noting are the battle scenes which work quite well, especially if you have a chance to see the film in the IMAX 3-D version where the blood and spears shoot out at you.

Though the look works there are many problems with the non-human characters. The monsters in the film are scary in only a depressing B-movie kind of way. Grendel is a big dumb ogre, the dragon is ferocious but bland, and we never get to see the true form of Grendel’s mother (though it is often teased in reflection). The only real monsters worth mentioning are the sea creature Beowulf slays during a flashback in what is the best scene of the film.

Another huge issue is the tone of the film. It ranges from cheesy to serious, and bloody to bufoonery. At times it is a fairy tale and at others it is a brutal slash fest. At times it, not so subtly, plays on sexual themes and at others it loses all tension. It’s just all over the place and never decides what type of story it wants to tell. Had the film been done in a more dramatic and hardcore vision (as some of the battle scenes are) it might have stood a chance (and would no doubt earned a hard R or even possibly a NC-17). Sadly for us however the film went for the PG-13 market dumbing down its story, dulling its edges, and scantily cladding its more adult themes into a poor excuse for a teenage geek fantasy.

And although the film’s 3-D effects are interesting to look at, during large stretches of the film that is all that is happening. Sure the 3-D rendering works well in the action scenes, but since the majority of the film isn’t action you are left with effects like “Gee, that chair is closer to me than that table” or “Wow look at how close that glass of mead is.” Though it is odd at least it keeps your interest, in a minimal sort of way. Had I viewed a regular print of the film I have no doubt it would have put me to sleep.

Is Beowulf worth seeing? Eh. Although the 3-D effects work well it’s hard to justify the higher price movie goers will have to pay to see it. And without those effects the film suffers (I’d drop a half-star off my rating for the non 3-D version of the film). It will be interesting to see how the film will fare on DVD. Also troubling is the campy nature of some of the scenes which would seem more at home in a skit satirizing a bad film than the actual theatrical big budget film which is meant to be taken seriously. Other than one or two good memorable moments (and many, many more unintentionally bad ones) there’s just not much to remember this hero. The tale of Beowulf may have survived for hundreds of years, but it dies a slow death on screen.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lions for Lambs

“The problem is not with the people who started this. The problem is with us, who do nothing.”

Robert Redford‘s latest flick is what we would call a message film. The characters themselves aren’t that important; they are only there to promote the message the director and writer want to convey. The odd thing about the film is, for a message film, it’s all over the place.

The film moves through three different storylines. The first involves a professor (Redford) trying to motivate on of his brightest but most apathetic students (Andrew Garfield). The second involves the preemptive Republican nominee for President (Tom Cruise) giving an interview to a reporter (Meryl Streep) about a new military strategy. The third story involves a group of Army Rangers (including Michael Pena and Peter Berg) making an attack inside Afghanistan.

It doesn’t really matter how the different threads connect, but if you care go see the film or simply check out the trailer. What is important is the message of the film and what it sets out to say about America, our government, and our responsibilities and duties both at home and overseas.

Although the performances are all quite good I had more than a few issues. I never bought Cruise as a Presidential nominee, though I could buy him as a Senator promoting his own agenda. Nor did I buy Streep as the ace reporter who becomes too easily flustered by the circumstances and events in which she finds herself.

The film has no coherent narrative as events, flashbacks, and different stories are layered one on top of another, and for a message film it is eerily unmoving and unfocused in its attack as it points and accepts blame in all directions. One of the most interesting points however which I liked about the film was the scene between Cruise and Streep in which he implicates the media in the current situation of Iraq. It’s a slow build up to the scene and it works quite well (though Streep’s later scene with her editor describing the interview is simply dreadful). If the rest of the film had been handled with similar care I might be more inclined to give it a higher review.

The film is hurt by the contraption of the three separate stories which muddles the message of the film to no end. Part of the film feels like an Army recruitment film and part feels like an indictment of all current military and government operations. I can’t quite bring myself to recommend such a flawed and unfocused film, but there are some important issues that it does cover, if you can get over the heavy-handed diatribe on how they are presented, that are worth hearing and discussing.

Fred Claus

“My brother is Santa Claus.”

Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) is an immortal schmuck. The older brother of Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) has spent his life in the shadow of his famous sibling. He’s a con artist, a thief, a liar, and an all around unlikable guy. Needing money for his latest scheme he takes a temporary job in the North Pole working for his brother.

There’s more to the film including a reunion with Fred’s parents (Kathy Bates, Trevor Peacock), an evil efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) trying to put Santa out of business, an elf (John Michael Higgins) with a crush on Santa’s little helper (Elizabeth Banks), a troubled orphan named Slam (Bobb’e J. Thompson), and Fred consistently screwing up his relationship with a woman who is too good for him (Rachel Weisz).

Would you believe, with all these stories, not a single one is interesting? Yeah, Giamatti is not too bad in the role of Santa (and Miranda Richardson does a tolerable job as his wife), but other than look like Santa there’s nothing for him to do in the film except play the straight man to Vaughn’s antics.

And Vaughn’s Fred is such an unsympathetic asshole we are given no reason want him to find happiness or to root for to succeed. I don’t mind films with unlikable lead characters, but if the film expects or demands me to grow to care for, or want the redemption of, a character like Fred Claus then a little effort (like any at all) is called for. Fred isn’t evil, he’s just a prick, and a pretty bland one at that.

Add to this a myriad of unanswered and inexplicable plot problems and you’ve got a sleigh wreck of a film. Here are some questions the film never attempts to solve. Who is the efficiency expert and who does he work for? Who has the power to fire Santa? How can it be nighttime all around the world on Christmas Eve at the EXACT SAME TIME!!!? How does Santa get into houses without a chimney? Where does the normal size Charlene (Banks) come from in a North Pole full of only elves? The movie “explains” that saints, and their families, live forever but why do Santa and Fred age so differently (especially if Fred is the older brother)?

In this dreary film the only real bright spot is Fred’s short appearance with a support group called Siblings Anonymous where he meets other people dealing with the success of their brothers (including Stephen Baldwin, Roger Clinton, and Frank Stallone playing themselves). It’s not quite as good as it sounds (nowhere near the level of the group therapy session from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), but in a film with nothing else worth mentioning it’s a least one good moment that doesn’t suck all the joy from your heart.

This X-Mas film is a dud and far inferior to similar films like 1994’s The Santa Clause which at least attempts to explain how some of Santa’s powers work. The film never has the balls to make Fred enjoy his behavior (like Willie in Bad Santa) and so it tries to stay in a safe place where Fred is a complete dick, but doesn’t do anything unforgivable leading to a depressingly cheerful and easily foreseeable ending. Unfunny, unoriginal, uneventful, and completely forgettable, this film is about as holiday friendly as a hunk of coal in your stocking.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Color of Money

“It’s even, but it ain’t settled. Let’s settle it.”

The film is a sequel to 1961’s The Hustler with Paul Newman reprising his role as “Fast” Eddie Felson. By this time out (25 years after the original film) Eddie is the old hustler who has lost a step or two and decides to take a talented but raw pool player (Tom Cruise) under his wing and teach him the ropes of hustling. Although the film earned itself five Oscar nominations (Newman won for his role) the film has largely been forgotten and ignored by those who feel it is one of Martin Scorsese’s lesser works, but to me it remains a nice reminder that sometimes sequels are worth seeing.

Newman is terrific, and although the film works better if you have seen the original it isn’t a necessity to enjoy the tale. Cruise is well cast as the not too smart hot shot, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio puts in a strong supporting performance as the film’s smartest character. You might also want to keep an eye out for some great cameos from the likes of Forest Whitaker, Iggy Pop, and several professional pool players.

In terms of sports films (if you stretch the definition to include pool) the film doesn’t rank among the greats like Hoosiers or Field of Dreams. But the film does belong in that next category of films presenting strong characters, snappy dialogue, and a look into a world many don’t know that much about. I’d compare it favorably to films like 1998’s Rounders (which coincidentally also has John Turturro in a small supporting role) in how it takes it subject matter seriously but manages to enjoy itself at the same time.

Sadly the film has only been released on a bare bones single disc DVD without extras or fanfare. I’d love to see this get the Special Edition treatment (who wouldn’t want to hear Cruise and Newman on commentary together?). But for now you’ll have to settle for the film sans extras.

Is the film as good as Casino, Gangs of New York, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver or The Departed? You might be hard pressed to find anyone to argue that point (and I won’t try to here either). I will say that The Color of Money is the most fun film Scorsese ever made. That ain’t nothing, folks. If you haven’t seen it, or it’s been awhile, go out and rent it or simply pick it up (you can find it for $10 or less in most stores). It’s a film that can be enjoyed over and over, and with each viewing I think you will appreciate it a little more.

Friday, November 2, 2007

American Gangster

“No black man has accomplished what the American Mafia hasn’t in a hundred years!”

“Frank Lucas is the most dangerous man walking the streets of our city.”

Much like Michael Mann‘s Heat the film follows two separate and concurrent tales on opposite sides of the law. On one hand there is Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), who after the death of his mentor takes over the drug business in Harlem and, in turning into a profitable empire, pisses off everyone who knows him. The other story follows Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), the lone good honest cop left in New Jersey whose honor has cost him a marriage, custody of his son (his wife is played by Carla Gugino), and the anger and resentment of his fellow cops.

Roberts is given a new assignment by his commander (Ted Levine) and runs his own group of guys to track down and bring down the drug suppliers and dealers. Over time and hard work the unknown Frank Lucas is brought to Roberts’ attention and their two worlds collide.

Based on a true story the film shows us Frank’s rise to glory and the personal life and ups and downs of both men. At a running time of 157 minutes it’s more than a little long, and it meanders at times, but the story continues to progress forward culminating in the confrontation between the two men (much like Heat). After this there’s a prolonged, yet condensed epilogue, which tells us what happened next.

Much like Blow the film spends a long time showcasing the drug trade and how things work while intermingling the personal life and problems brought on by the business. It isn’t anything new, but there is a certain style to it and even if it goes on too long at times it remains interesting.

Aside from length I had some trouble with how noble Roberts appeared to everyone else in the picture. Although in reality many of the cops during this period were on the take the film makes it seem that all of them were and they all hated straight shooters like Roberts, yet when Roberts needs to put together a new squad of guys who he can trust he doesn’t have any problems? There’s a logic gap there. It’s not a big issue, but there are moments like this where the film uses generalities and simplifications to justify behaviors and events, something you wouldn’t think a near three-hour film would need to do.

People who haven’t seen Heat or Blow, both of which I think are slightly better films, each in their own way, will probably like this a little more than I did. Given a choice seeing a cops and robbers flick starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro or Crowe and Washington, I’ll take Pacino and De Niro (though this isn’t exactly chopped liver). Still, the stars shine and the supporting cast is more than good enough to carry the film even when it gets off track and meanders through the personal lives of both men. It’s a very good film that wants hard to be a great film, and it comes close many times. It’s an easy recommendation, and I expect it will garner some Academy attention come award time. Even though I have some small nagging problems with the film, it’s certainly worth a look or two.

Bee Movie

A courtroom drama may sound weird for an animated film. Sorry, but it is weird for an animated film! Although cute, and with a few moments of wit, there isn’t much memorable about this film about bees which doesn’t quite measure up to recent bug-themed filcks like Antz and A Bug’s Life.

After graduating college a disillusioned Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) leaves the hive and travels into the outside world. Barry isn’t ready to buckle down to one job for the rest of his life. His adventure goes awry, as these things do in movies like this, and Barry finds himself staying with a florist named Vanessa Bloom (Renee Zellweger). Barry falls hard for the beautiful human and breaks the bee’s taboo never to talk to people.

His friendship with Vanessa leads him to learn of humans consumption of honey, which in turn leads Barry, with the help of his pal Adam (Matthew Broderick) to sue all of humanity for stealing honey.

The film includes many colorful characters Barry meets on his journey, all voiced by well-known actors including Vanessa’s jealous boyfriend (Patrick Warburton), a mosquito named Mooseblood (Chris Rock), the famous Bee Larry King (Larry King), a sneaky Southern attorney (John Goodman), and Ray Liota (playing himself as the owner of a huge honey business).

Although there are a few moments that may make you smile and the film has an important message about the environment and how all living things are tied together, it is also lacking in many areas. First there are some puzzlers, like why are there so many female bees in the hive? The Queen Bee is elected? Why is she called a queen? I could go on and on about little nagging problems like this but there are bigger fish to fry. There are no memorable jokes or big laughs, nor does the story ever elevate itself to the level of a feature film. Instead what we get, though well done, feels like a straight-to-DVD release or something you’d see on Nickelodeon. While many might enjoy this, mostly young kids, I don’t know how happy parents will be paying $10 a pop for it.

Bee Movie will keep your interest, make you smile now and then, and when it’s over you will completely forget it. Is it better than whatever is showing on Nickelodeon? Probably not. Kids should have a fun time, though young ones might not understand the legal process any better than these writers do. The question is, is it worth you time? Maybe, if you’ve got time to kill, but I’d suggest waiting until you can see it on cable (where it really belongs).

Martian Child

“I don’t want to bring another kid into this world, but how do you argue against loving one that’s already here?”

John Cusack stars as David, a science fiction writer who is still dealing with the loss of his wife. A social worker (Sophie Okonedo), who had been working to place a child with the couple contacts David about a special case. Dennis (Bobby Coleman) is an odd little kid who spends most of his time in a box, collects (steals) items from other children, and wears a weight belt made of batteries. Oh, and he thinks he’s a Martian.

You can probably guess where the film goes from here. David and Dennis have their problems and grow to love each other. It terms of storytelling the film doesn’t break any new ground, but the script from Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins, based on the novel by David Gerrold, does hold our interest with smart characters and a story willing to hedge its bets on whether the kid is delusional or actually an alien.

There are some nice supporting performances here in roles that are could have been easily forgettable with less talented actors. Amanda Peet charmed the socks off me as David’s sister-in-law, Joan Cusack is good as always playing a role she knows well - the sister, and Richard Schiff brings his trademark gruffness to the head of the review board who has the power to take Dennis away from David. Although none of the characters are that well-written, these actors infuse them with energy and charm; there are several scenes between Peet and Cusack which nearly steal the film.

Before ending I must mention young Bobby Coleman who does a good job playing the role of both a troubled young man and a strange being from another world. Although the film eventually makes a statement about whether or not Dennis is from another world it never closes the door on other possibilities, and that’s a good thing.

Yes the film gets sappy in some scenes (as, for instance, the quote I used above), and even though the film takes place on the west coast Cusack still finds a way to get a Chicago hat on the kid. You can take the kid out of Chicago… These are small problems however, especially since you know this is the type of film you are walking into. No, missing the film isn’t going to hurt you at all. But for a family film that all ages can find something to enjoy without any objectionable material you could do far worse than Martian Child.