A film review by Craig J. Koban February 24, 2011

  

I AM NUMBER FOUR j

2011, PG-13, 110 mins.

 

John: Alex Pettyfer / Henri: Timothy Olyphant / Number 6: Teresa Palmer / Sarah: Dianna Agron / Sam: Callan McAuliffe

Directed by D.J. Caruso / Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.

How utterly lackluster is the title I AM NUMBER FOUR?  

It just has no pizzazz or energy.  Now, I think I’ve got a better title: I AM A HUNKY EXTRATERRESTRIAL TEENAGE SUPER HERO FROM OUTER SPACE.  How does that sound?  Much better.  It just has a juicy cornball sensibility that it’s not afraid to hide behind, plus it does an excellent job of distilling precisely what the movie is about.   

Alas, if I am forced to refer to it by its proper name, then I will appease you.  I AM NUMBER FOUR is a monumentally silly film that could have benefited by a monumentally silly title, just like the one prescribed above.  Based on the young adult sci-fi novel by Pittacus Lore (the pen name of authors James Frey and Jobie Hughes) published in August of last year, I AM NUMBER FOUR attempts at being robustly extraordinary and otherworldly with its subject matter and action, but the resulting film is so fundamentally lacking in originality, suspense, or even modest intrigue that to label it as simply derivative would be a nice manner of calling it a rip-off.  Here’s a movie that manages to homogenize two of my most detested movie staples: the cornball Harlequin teen-centric romantic melodrama of the TWILIGHT films and the mindlessly bombastic aesthetic quality of Michael Bay (who served as producer here).  Those two dubious traits are kryptonite for just about any intelligent filmgoer. 

You know what’s even worse about this film?  It commits one of the biggest felonies of the movies by telling us what it's about instead of showing us what its about.  We have a very early opening sequence where the main protagonist explains - in voice over form - that he is, in fact, an alien from another distant planet that has escaped the ravages of his home world to seek asylum on earth.  He further explains that another evil alien race has been hunting and exterminating his kind back on his planet, which forced him and his brethren to come to Earth, but now his enemies have found out that they are on Earth and are now searching them out to destroy them all once and for all.  He gives no explanation, though, as to why he looks like a squeaky clean, blonde haired, and ripped GQ cover model and his enemies look like rejected Lord Voldemort character designs, but I digress. 

A much more compelling and involving screenplay would have been patient and observant with this strange creature’s story and would have allowed for us to gradually find out the particulars of his situation.  Unfortunately, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (creators of TV’s SMALLVILLE) opt for the lowest common denominator and sluggish approach of informing viewers within the first few minutes everything we need to know about this alien, which really subverts most of the forward momentum and interest the script could have maintained.  That, and there is absolutely no denying that the TWILIGHT echoes in the script are so visible that even Ray Charles could have seen them.  You have a small rural town atmosphere, super powered aliens substituting for vampires, and a fledging romance between the brawny and mysterious alien and a pretty local girl.  Mix into that a lot of random and perfunctory CGI spectacle and action and you pretty much got TWILIGHT-redux.    There is no attempt to subvert that series’ tired formula: it’s almost as if the makers are screaming: “If you loved TWILIGHT, this will be exactly the same, but with very lame-brained tweaks.”  

 

 

The story itself seems like something that either a 12-year-old boy or Ed Wood Jr. might have conjured up:  John Smith (Alex Pettyfer, a model turned actor; can we please have a moratorium on this?) is a very human looking alien from the planet Lorien that was sent to Earth when he was a child along with eight other space hopping toddlers.  Why?  They were attempting to escape an invading alien race known as, ahem, "The Mogadorians", which sounds an awful lot like the product of an online fantasy name generator.  The Mogadorians destroyed Lorien for reasons never adequately explained, but they just want all of the Loriens dead, I guess, and they still actively seek out the remaining Loriens on Earth.   

Still with me?  Apparently the Mogadorians are only able to kill the Loriens in ordered sequence (number one must be killed before number two and so forth; being number 100 has its perks), which makes this race either Howard Hughes-esque in terms of their obsessive compulsiveness or just plain idiotic.  It appears that they have killed numbers one through three which leaves number four (in this case, John  Smith).  John has now grown up and is under the protective care of his guardian, Henri (a very bored looking Timothy Olyphant) and now that John is next on the Mogadorian chopping block, he becomes really paranoid and moves John from one new city/town to the next.  Oh, along with the trials and tribulations of growing up on a foreign planet, John is developing super powers, because Loriens are able to develop “legacies”, which is just a fancy word for powers.  These legacies include super strength, incredible speed and dexterity, the ability to move things with your mind by the waving of a hand, and making your hands glow like a smart phones in a darkened movie theatre, the latter which is very, very annoying. 

Realizing that he must keep John safe and secure, Henri move them both to the town Paradise, Ohio, which just as well could have been Forks, Washington.  John decides that he must attend school to starve off symptoms of house arrest, which may be a very dumb idea seeing as he is the target of a race of aliens that wants him dead.  While in school he befriends a cute amateur photographer named Sara Hart (GLEE’s Diana Argon, with astoundingly photogenic eyes and a bright smile, but with little screen presence and charisma) and, wouldn’t you know it, an alien conspiracy addict named Sam Goode (Callan McAuliffe) and there is no need for a spoiler warning as to whether he finds out John’s secret.  While trying to blend in John makes obligatory enemies in Sara’s ex, Mark (Jake Abel), but things get really dicey when the Mogadorians finally show up and make John’s new life really complicated in a sloppily constructed action-packed climax that involves lots of B-grade computer effects, bloodless PG-13 carnage, and not one bit of tension. 

It’s one thing for a film like this to be startlingly preposterous, drab, boring, and unoriginal, but I AM NUMBER FOUR gave me migraines for all of its huge gaps in basic logic, not to mention that it forced me to ask far, far too many questions.  Like, for instance, how did the Loriens get to Earth and why did they choose our planet?  How could the Mogadorians, who seem to basically rely on ray guns and barking out threats, beat an all powerful race like the Loriens?  Why would the Mogadorians bother to follow nine infant Loriens across the universe to Earth just to kill them?  Why not just let them go and rule their home world?  Why do the Loriens look precisely like Earth men and women?  Why is John – a Lorien lad – physically attracted to an Earth girl?  Why would he risk his own life and that of his guardian by exposing himself to attend high school?  What possible imperative is there for John to go to high school?  Why do the Loriens constantly stay on the defensive when anyone of them – on any good day – could successfully go toe-to-toe with Superman?  Why not just simply go on the offensive and kill the invading Mogadorians and be done with them?  I am no going cross-eyed.  I have rarely seen a sci-fi film do more of a shamefully wretched job of establishing and explaining its own mythology than this film. 

The performances themselves are interchangeably disposable and flavorless.  Pettyfer in particular looks good and certainly was hired to lure in young female audience members, but beyond his mug he has relatively zero charm and charisma.  By comparison, Robert Pattinson in TWILIGHT was not that much better and also had limited range, but at least he could brood well and generate some interest in his character.    

I did like one element in the film: Teresa Palmer – a spunky blonde Aussie goddess that I crushed on big time in last year’s THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE – shows up late in the game as Number Six, a one woman killing machine that unleashes copious amounts of Mogadorian whoop ass while cheekily uttering campy one-liners with a real relish.  She seems to know that she’s in a ridiculous movie and unapologetically goes for broke.  The rest of the movie around her is just a hodgepodge of rejected extras from other similar films that were not very good to begin with.  When you try to model a new teen-centric and friendly fantasy series on the TWILIGHT formula, then you are not really aiming for the stars now, are you?  Then again, Michael Bay is the producer and optioned the novel, which speaks volumes in its own right.

D.J. Caruso (who made the very decent DISTURBIA) never seems to find his way with this banal material.  His harnessing of the action scenes themselves is second rate at best, not to mention that they are haphazardly edited and choreographed together with unimpressive CGI that’s only a shade above a direct-to-video feature.  The conclusion itself does not even have the mercy to bring us closure as it self-indulgently hints at yet further adventures of John Smith and company to come.  A lousy film like I AM NUMBER FOUR should be immediately disqualified from even discretely setting up a possible sequel.  There are apparently six more stories in the book series, but let’s just hope that I AM NUMBER FOUR remains the one and only episode to be theatrically released.  

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