February 19, 2011

I Am Number Four

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



I Am Number Four

SCIENCE FICTION/ACTION:

United States, 2011

U.S. Release Date:

2011-02-18

Running Length:

1:50

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Kevin Durand, Jake Abel

Director:

D.J. Caruso

Screenplay:

Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and Marti Noxon, based on the novel by Pittacus Lore

Cinematography:

Guillermo Navarro

Music:

Trevor Rabin

U.S. Distributor:

Touchstone Pictures

Subtitles:

none


For someone who has never seen another movie, I Am Number Four might be an astounding experience, cobbling together bits and pieces of other, better productions as it does. It's very loud, very fast paced, and very derivative. Like a casserole made from leftovers, the storyline contains stringy, overcooked bits of teenage dramas (a.k.a. "afterschool specials"), superhero adventures (especially origin stories), romances, buddy movies, cheesy science fiction, monster flicks, and action/adventure stuff. The problem isn't just the lack of originality evident in I Am Number Four, but that it cherry-picks well-known material and presents it with the intelligence and elegance of a fifth grade drama production. This is a "greatest hits" album from a cover band so bad they couldn't even play a bar mitzvah. And, while the film is designed as the first installment of a hoped-for franchise, it feels more like a T.V. pilot circa 1990. The recycling goes as deep as the dialogue, which is a mangled and blended refrain of clichés.

The Twilight vibe is hard to shake, even though there are no vampires. The movie seems to be geared toward girls between ages 10 and 15 with its soulful, ruggedly handsome hero, convention-defying love story, and female ass-kicking cavalry. And, as Twilight watered-down vampires to the point where they bore almost no resemblance to the bloodsuckers of horror legend, so I Am Number Four dilutes science fiction to an embarrassing degree. This makes George Lucas appear like Asimov by comparison.

John (Alex Pettyfer) doesn't sparkle when exposed to sunlight, but strange lights occasionally emanate from under his skin. That's because he's not the all-American high school athlete he seems to be; he's an alien. Placed under the care of a Jedi-like warrior named Henri (Timothy Olyphant), he's on Earth in hiding. He is one of nine survivors saved from genocide on a distant world. Now, hunted across the universe by the Mogadorians, who look like Voldemort wannabes, the Nine have become Six, with numbers One, Two, and Three eliminated. John is Number Four, so he's next. The death of Number Three puts Henri into a heightened state of paranoia, so he forcibly moves John to a new city and new school. There, John quickly falls in love with the Sensitive Girl With The Beautiful Smile, a.k.a. Sarah (Dianna Agron). This doesn't sit well with Sarah's ex-boyfriend, The Bully With An Attitude, a.k.a. Mark (Jake Abel). When not making goo-goo eyes at Sarah or trying to cut his apron strings with Henri, John befriends The Smart Outcast Nerd, a.k.a. Sam (Callan McAuliffe), who knows a thing or two about UFOs. Meanwhile, Number Six (Teresa Palmer), a hot Aussie alien with a big gun, is trying to find John before the Mogadorians do. Since Michael Bay is involved (as producer), you can bet that a few things are blown up before it's all over. Too bad one of those things wasn't the screenplay.

The actors are at the level one might expect for a movie of this sort. The only one with a modicum of credibility is Timothy Olyphant, but he has not been surrounded by a troupe of the highest caliber. Plus, with the exception of Callan McAuliffe, the young cast is afflicted by Grease Disease - the affliction whereby students have repeated grades so many times that they're still attending high school while in their twenties. I Am Number Four's lead, Alex Pettyfer, might be a statue of a young Rock Hudson-like icon come to life. He's a man's man with finely chiseled features and an expression that never changes. Not ever. It's always the same. Then there's Dianna Agron, one of the stars of the TV series Glee. She has a nice smile. Good dental work. Meanwhile, as Number Six, Teresa Palmer looks stunning walking toward the camera in slo-mo with a fireball behind her. However, when it comes to memorable Sixes, she's behind Tricia Helfer and (of course) Patrick McGoohan.

Following the obligatory climactic battle which features all the nonsensical idiocy one could reasonably expect from this sort of movie, we are given the "hook" for future films along with the happiest ending possible under the circumstances. It wouldn't have surprised me if everyone had joined hands and sung "Kumbaya" for good measure. For box office appeal, I supposed Pettyfer's jutting chin and Argon's dimples are more important than intelligent storytelling and strong character development. How else to explain that a made-for-Syfy feature somehow made it to multiplex screens?

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