– Summary –
Director : DJ Caruso
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron, Teresa Palmer, Timothy Olyphant, Callan McAuliffe, Kevin Durand, Jake Abel
Approx Running Time : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: An alien hiding out on our planet must balance that difficult conundrum between revealing his identity to the woman he loves, or protecting her from the vicious alien bounty hunters tracking him down, hell bent on killing him and the rest of his kind.
What we think : Terribly bland alien adventure mixed with teen romance has a wonderful concept, yet still feels like a half cobbled execution despite the obvious good intentions. Leading actor Alex Pettyfer seems bored by the whole thing, leading actress (and Glee starlet) Dianna Agron smoulders perfectly when she’s asked to (and she’s asked to a lot!), and Aussie Teresa Palmer does a great job as an ass-kicking fellow alien refugee. Overall, a solid effort, undone by a disinterested central character and a confusing tone.
Dontcha hate it when some super-hot alien dude shows up at your school and starts hitting on the girl you love? Pity poor Mark James (played here by Jake Abel), a typical school bully with delusions of lust for local hottie Sarah (Dianna Agron) – he wants her, she hates him even though there’s history there, and he treats everyone with the bitter anger and resentment she’s given him by not letting him be her boyfriend. He sacks up and tries to assert his miniscule authority on the super-hot alien dude, only to find he’s not all that and a bit, and the super-hot alien dude actually does deserve to end up with the girl. Poor bastard. Yes, I Am Number Four serves up the traditional high-school angst with a blanket of science fiction coolness, the kind of kinky narrative imbalance that feels weird yet familiar at the same time. The “newcomer gets the girl” fantasy is writ large here, and it plays out exactly like the join-the-dots version Hollywood’s been doling out since the mid nineties, when High School Films had their resurgence. Moments of levity, which are actually quite amusing for the most part, undermine the tensions inherent in the “thriller” aspect of the story, which makes Number Four feel like two (or three) different films mashed together. Part origin, part teen romance, part revenge thriller, part sci-fi actioner, this film can’t handle the balance between all its own aspects, and ultimately comes across as a little bit naff.
John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is an alien refugee from a distant planet, escaping death from an invading race seeking power, who, along with his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant) move to Paradise, Ohio. Pursuing them are a soldier group of the invaders, the Mogodorians, led by the cruel Commander (Kevin Durand). According to the story, there were 9 survivors of the invasion, and the Mogodorians are hunting each one down in order of sequence – three have been slain, and John, as it turns out, is Number Four. Arriving in Paradise, John immediately forms a bond with local photographer Sarah (Glee’s Dianna Agron), as well as local nerdy dude Sam (Callan McAuliffe). With the Mogodorian death squad gradually getting closer to John’s location, John himself must also learn to control his rapidly developing powers – “legacies”, Henri calls them; John has enhanced strength, speed and agility, telekinesis, and the ability to generate power from his hands. Also seeking out John is another of his race, Number Six (Teresa Palmer), who has become something of a huntress in her time on Earth – together, they must stop the Mogodorians from killing their species and turning Earth into their next conquest.
If I was a Hollywood exec, I could quite easily sit at my over-sized mahogany desk and describe this film in one sentence: Superman meets Beverley Hills 90210. Essentially an origin story, I Am Number Four feels a lot like it’s a film designed to set up a larger world, almost as if the inevitable sequel was already written and ready to go (it isn’t, at the time I write this) – and there’s elements to the story which feel so contrived and cliched, I was often rolling my eyes while watching. Alien stranded on Earth has cool powers, falls for a pretty girl, and must protect her (and us) from the powerful alien forces raging against him – a riff on Superman, I agree, and yet the film can’t quite attain the awe and majesty that character embodies. Pettyfer is solid as John Smith (the name is a pseudonym, you know), even if he’s crippled by some truly woeful dialogue, and a distinct lack of chemistry with anybody on screen except his co-star Agron; personally, I think most of this chemistry is derived from Agron’s performance, not Pettyfer’s. Agron, meanwhile, gets plenty of chances to look pretty and bite-my-lip her way through the film – she’s innocent but bad, weak but strong, decisive but instinctual – her character is pretty inconsequential to the plot overall, yet somehow provides the required love interest that drives the motivation of its hunky central character.
I Am Number Four isn’t a film built on action – even though there’s plenty of it in the screenplay. The film is, at its core, a romantic teen drama, with a bit of alien romance thrown in. Whether you find this appealing will depend on your tolerance for the cliche of teen school romance and inelegant dialogue, and my tolerance must have been low the night I watched this. The script struggles with the balance of character, romance and action, and the jarring vagaries of each element simply don’t mesh together. The dialogue in the dramatic moments is, to be honest, shit. Come to think of it, the dialogue in the entire film barely lifts above risable. Timothy Olyphant does pretty well as the Obi Wan character Henri, the keeper of the knowledge to John’s legacy, as it were. He brings a sly wink to his character, a charm missing from almost every other aspect. Secondary character Sam, whose birth-father went missing (woo ooo ooo, that’s a coincidence!) and is now seeking some sense of closure as to the reason (it links with John and his problems, like that couldn’t be seen coming) – Callan McAuliffe plays the part well, I guess, although his character has some iffy motivation and underwritten conviction. Aussie girl (yay!) Teresa Palmer, who played opposite Jay Baruchel in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, leaps, swings and stabs her way through the role of the kick-ass Number 6, another of John’s race who’s developed her powers and uses them to kill Mogodorians. She’s given little-to-no character, save a nice costume and some pretty sweet moves, but it’s all sturm und drang in the mix of romantic sci-fi.
Director DJ Caruso, who gave us Disturbia and Eagle Eye, handles the various concepts of this film well individually, however he’s unable to bring it all together as a cohesive whole. The action is well mounted, with plenty of awesome special effects and stunts to keep the guys watching this film happy. The romantic subplot seems… I use the term “brusque” here, in that Caruso delivers the critical emotional content like he’s trying to simply get to the next action sequence. It feels rushed and awkward. The visual effects are awesome (no, really) but the heart behind them feels empty and folorn, more a showreel for whatever effects house worked on this project than a genuine attempt to built energy and emotional weight. There’s a lot of stuff and nonsense here, and in the end, you’re sitting there wondering what the point of it all was. The ending, obviously a set-up for further sequels, is a terribly cliched “…and so we start our journey” moment where a lot of the good work through the film comes unglued like a Cessna in a hurricane.
I Am Number Four will impress the tween girls looking to love-on leading man Pettyfer, and may impress the few Gleeks who trek over hoping to see Dianna Agron in a more adult-oriented role, but everyone else will find it all a bit ho-hum. There’s bits of good, a moment or two of great, but a large serving of ambivalence to the viewer, in this opening salvo of a potential franchise. The trite dialogue and poorly developed characters in the film will make this a once-er: a film you’ll only ever need to see once. Bland, uninvolving and just plain taupe, I Am Number Four could very well be This Was The Last.