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Published: Thursday, 2/21/2008

2 single dads get the Hollywood treatment, but one has more fun

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Who knew how much Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and John (sensitive guy) Cusack have in common?

OK. OK. Cusack is a respected actor who has played a record shop owner (High Fidelity), a whip-smart U.S. Marshal (Con Air), and numerous male romantic leads (Serendipity, America's Sweethearts), and Johnson is a former WWF wrestler who played The Scorpion King. It doesn't seem as if there's much of a contest.

But both play single dads in films that recently came to DVD, and if you watch them back-to-back, Johnson comes out the victor. Isn't heresy fun?

In The Game Plan (Walt Disney Pictures, $29.99), Johnson plays Joe Kingman, a star quarterback leading his team into the playoffs when his doorbell rings and he opens it to find a cute little girl. She informs him that she's his daughter, Peyton Kelly, that she's 8, and that she's come to stay with him for a month while her mother is off doing humanitarian work in Africa.

In Martian Child (New Line Cinema, $28.99) Cusack plays David Gardner, a science-fiction writer who is still grieving the death of his wife two years earlier. When his wife was still alive, they had planned to adopt a child, and the idea is still percolating in David's brain. Despite a wealth of "parenting is not a one-person job" advice from his well-meaning sister (Joan Cusack), David can't persuade himself that he doesn't have something to offer. The idea takes on a real urgency when he meets Dennis (Bobby Coleman), an abandoned boy, about 8, who believes he's from Mars. David, who sees something of himself in Dennis, takes on the task of rearing him.

Both dads are fabulously successful and live in swanky places: David a rambling home somewhere green and lush, probably California; Joe has a penthouse suite in Boston.

David has a self-centered agent (Oliver Platt). Joe has a self-centered agent (Kyra Sedgwick).

David has a built-in support system with his sister and her family. Joe has a built in support system with his team.

David has a dog named Somewhere. Joe has a dog named Spike.

David has a good friend (Amanda Peet) who ends up becoming his sweetheart. Joe has a prickly relationship with his daughter's ballet teacher (Roselyn Sanchez), who ends up becoming his sweetheart.

Martian Child shamelessly promotes Amazon.com, M&Ms, and Lucky Charms. The Game Plan shamelessly promotes ESPN.

Martian Child starts out being more credible. The Game Plan ends up that way.

Not that credibility has much to do with either film.

The big difference between the two is that Martian Child is a production carefully calculated to tug at the heart-strings, and The Game Plan is carefully crafted for laughs.

It is simply more fun to watch Johnson get stuck into taking a ballet class than it is to watch Cusack sit in a car and worry whether his son is getting along at school.

Martian Child has its moments. David's efforts to teach Dennis baseball produce smiles, a Martian dance is a hoot, and Joan Cusack's acerbic comments are always welcome. But the further the movie gets into the plot, the more shamelessly manipulative it becomes. The climactic crisis is so over-the-top, it wipes out any good-will we have left toward these characters.

The Game Plan starts out being dopey but rarely loses sight of the fact that it's supposed to be fun. Its opening goofiness segues into a sweet silliness, and its climactic crisis is much more believable.

Both movies have feel-good endings, but Martian Child's sets off feelings of relief that the movie is finally over. When credits roll in The Game Plan, the movie hasn't worn out its welcome.

Of the two, Martian Child is slightly more original, but it telegraphs all the plot twists long before they happen. The Game Plan is a pretty generic Disney family comedy, but there are a few surprises along the way.

Both DVDs have extras, including deleted scenes, but where Martian Child gets serious, with commentary by writers Seth Ball and Jonathan Tolins and producers David Kirschner and Corey Sienega, The Game Plan gets silly, showing bloopers with Marv Albert.

Given the choice, I'd go for the laughs every time.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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