I Am Number Four (2011) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running time: 109 min.
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand, Callan McAuliffe, Jake Abel, Teresa Palmer
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenplay: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Marti Noxon
Alex Pettyfer (Wild Child, Beastly) plays a teenage refugee from a decimated faraway planet named Lorien who knows no other way to live except on the run, trying to stay a step ahead of the deadly group of gilled humanoid predators from the planet Mogador out to hunt and exterminate him for reasons he isn't very clear on. What he does know is that he is the fourth of nine young warriors to escape to Earth with their protectors, and the first three have been killed, leaving him as the next on the list. He and his guardian Henri (Olyphant, Hitman) move to a small town named Paradise, Ohio, where he assumes the identity of John Smith. There he befriends the perpetually bullied school science nerd (McAuliffe, Flipped) and the girl-next-door photographer beauty he finds difficult to resist, Sarah (Agron, Burlesque). As John grows older, he finds himself developing eerie but very strong cosmic powers, including ultra-heightened agility and strength, and some weird lights emanating from the palms of his hands that have varying effects. He's going to need them in order to thwart the sinister forces out to strike him, and everyone he loves, dead.
D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, Disturbia) directs this Michael Bay-produced (Transformers, Transformers 2) adaptation of the popular 2010 juvenile novel by James Frey and Jobie Hughes (which they wrote under the pseudonym of Pitticus Lore). Nice CGI does help the cause, but only so much, as the pyrotechnics erupt to give little but eye candy when we should be rapt up in the plight of the characters instead. The actors are cast mostly on looks above ability to be convincing, with Olyphant the only actor giving the material the campy tone it deserves. Pettyfer and Agron, attractive they may be, aren't much more than placeholder actors stuck in underdeveloped roles.
I Am Number Four plays like a high-budget pilot to a television series, akin to "Heroes" for the Twilight crowd, than an actual big-time feature film franchise kick-off. Perhaps this shouldn't come as a shock when you realize that the screenwriters graduated from teen hero TV shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Noxon) and "Smallville" (Millar, Gough). There is little that's explained before we're thrust into the action, picking up little pieces here and there as to the hows and whys. Many of the questions aren't answered before the end, and the ending itself suggests there is more to come in future films. This is another example of the wrongheadedness of studios, who give us the first chapter of a story that they have no idea will ever be concluded. Coincidentally, this also happened with a previous Pettyfer effort, Alex Rider: Stormbreaker, another attempt at a juvenile book series that didn't go past the first release.
With little vested in the characters, few explanations, and a predictable storyline, I Am Number Four isn't much more than a nice-looking but generic sci-fi superhero/fantasy film made for a ready-built audience to consume and quickly forget. Caruso directs without imagination or edge. while the actors aren't given much to do other than look good. It's not really a science fiction film aimed for sci-fi audiences, not superhero enough for comic book audiences, not action-oriented enough for action audiences, and definitely not suspenseful enough for thriller audiences. Young teens, or those who enjoy teen novels and TV shows, are the target demographic, and sadly, much of what passes for juvenile fare these days is lacking. It's written in a kind of shorthand where the audience can only just accept without question that aliens look and act every bit like humans do, speak English, and have little sense of history or uniqueness save what the story needs them to have at any given moment.
I'm resisting the urge to quip that I Am Number Four got its name because it offers twice as much "number two" as most films. It's not a good film, but it isn't unwatchable, despite its determined blandness. It's a compendium of clichés, mish-mashing as many trending genre stories into a confusing, underdeveloped hybrid.
©2011 Vince Leo