A film review by Craig J. Koban February 24, 2011
I AM NUMBER FOUR
2011, PG-13, 110 mins.
2011, PG-13, 110 mins.
John: Alex Pettyfer / Henri: Timothy Olyphant / Number 6: Teresa
Palmer / Sarah: Dianna Agron / Sam: Callan McAuliffe
How utterly lackluster is the title I AM NUMBER FOUR?
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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