Based on a young adult novel and with a screenplay written by folks who worked on television shows Smallville (an alien in hiding in high school) and Buffy The Vampire Slayer (a vampire slayer in high school), I Am Number Four is about an alien hiding out in a high school and his struggles to fit in. It is definitely aimed at the audience members who would care to see a story about a hunky looking guy falling in love with the good looking outcast girl while being bullied by the asshole quarterback popular kid, all the while hiding a secret from everyone. It’s sappy and silly, and has a bunch of a sci-fi stuff thrown in to try to get other people interested. But it just doesn’t come together like they hoped it would.
The movie is about this teenager who goes by the name John Smith (Alex Pettyfer, Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker), and he’s on the run from some mysterious enemy who seeks to kill him and eight other teens just like him. Apprently these nine teens have an Earth-bound origin story extremely similar to that of this fella called Superman (who just happens to have one of the most famous origins of all time), and a small group of giant guys with ugly gill faces are stomping around Earth looking for them in an effort to kill them one by one. And for reasons not made entirely clear, these nine kids are numbered one through nine and these bad guys (called Mogadorians) have to kill them in sequential order. Which means the kid who got number one definitely ended up drawing the short straw, that sucks. Especially considering the movie opens with number three being killed, so numbers one and two are long gone already.
So anyway, this John Smith guy, number four with fries and a diet coke, is in hiding with his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood) and on the run. When they finally settle down in a small town called Paradise, Ohio, John feels the urge to go to high school, despite the fact that he has to stay in hiding. But for some reason, he needs to feel “normal” and he wants to fit in…except for the fact that he’s not “normal” and he doesn’t fit in. It’s one thing if he was a human who was just a little different from the rest of the folks at the school, but he just looks human. We don’t even know if he’s human on the inside, and I mean that literally – does he have a heart, two lungs, a stomach, etc.? Or does he has a completely different body structure? Anyway, he enrolls himself into the local high school and immediately gets on the shit list of the popular jock/bully of the school Mark James (Jake Abel, The Lovely Bones), and then immediately gets a thing going with local shutterbug cutie Sarah (Dianna Agron, Glee). And a strong tradition is upheld in I Am Number Four – a majority of the teenagers in the film are played by people in their 20’s. Love it.
Actually, there is a lot about this story that doesn’t feel too thought out or thoroughly explained/explored. John’s backstory is practically dumped on the audience within the first ten minutes of the movie in the form of a voiceover from John, and we get the basics of his story. What we don’t get are any of the motivations, especially the motivations of the evil Mogadorians. These guys roam the world looking for these numbered teens and they seem to really enjoy inflicting pain and killing and what not, but it’s never made clear why they want to kill these teens. Sure, there is some mumbo jumbo nonsense about the teens being the only ones that can stop the Mogadorians, and they have to protect the earth or the universe or whatever from some sort of evil, but it’s all so hollow and empty. They want to destory the world and destory everything, but then there only seems to be no more than six of these guys at any time, so it’s not like an army is bearing down on everyone. The only clear motivations in the movie are that the baddies want to kill number four and number four wants to be a real boy. This movie was obviously made with the hope that they are presenting a bunch of open ended questions that can be answered in future movies, just like the book I Am Number Four will be followed soon by its own sequels.
So without clear motivations and with murky character development (actually, very little character development at all), I Am Number Four ends up being pretty boring. It’s a dumb high school teenage romance drama mixed with a silly sci-fi movie and it just doesn’t work. Boring scenes of John Smith and Sarah pining for each other are interrupted by laser blasts and explosions, which would be cool if they weren’t overly edited. This is a weird case where two shots in the theatrical trailer are different in the final product, and I liked what I saw in the trailer better. There’s a moment when a speeding police car is about to run down John Smith when he holds out a hand and makes the car float into the air. In the trailer it lasts for a few seconds and looks really cool, but in the movie it doesn’t last as long so it’s not as noticeable or epic, and there’s a weird “wavy air” effect put over it, cheapening the overall effect. Wierd how that happens, when the person cutting the trailer does a better job with the original footage than the film’s editors and special effects wizards do.
Another problem with a movie like this is the mythology that they try to build in this world. By the end of the movie, there are all sorts of ridiculous elements thrown in the movie, like giant CG-beasts and glowing rocks with magical powers and a magical chest and an alien anthropologist and a shape-shifting dog named Bernie Kosar (actually, that last part was pretty cool). They have this big backstory that they try to dole out in big chunks of exposition and it’s all so boring. Who cares about any of this stuff? They couldn’t make me care, that’s for sure. I Am Number Four feels like a pretty empty movie, and it will probably join the ranks of franchise non-starters such as Jumper, Push and Supergirl: The Movie.
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