With the Twilight franchise scheduled to end in 2012, Hollywood is understandably scrambling to find a new cash-cow series to win the hearts and wallets of the sparkly vampire lovers. Based on the young adult novel of the same name by Pittacus Lore (a pseudonym for James Frey and Jobie Hughes), I Am Number Four reeks of Hollywood studio mentality in the way it dishes up all the customary ingredients for a modern teen movie. Ticking all the boxes, the film comes packaged with male models trying to act, a tepid romantic yarn between two teenagers who cannot consummate due to antagonistic interference, a heavy smattering of high school drama, and a fantasy angle that appears to have been assembled from the spare parts bin. Helmed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye), I Am Number Four has big aspirations but little gumption or skill to fulfil them.
One of nine beings who were saved from genocide on the distant planet of Lorien, Number Four (Pettyfer) has travelled to Earth under the care of protector Henri (Olyphant) to hide from the vicious Mogadorians. With the Mogadorians killing off the Lorien survivors in chronological order for no apparent reason, the pair are constantly on the move. Number Three’s eventual death puts Henri in a heightened state of paranoia, compelling him to move Four to the small town of Paradise, Ohio where he assumes the identity of John Smith. As with any movie of this sort, John is enchanted with fellow teenager Sarah (Agron) who’s kind-hearted and has an interest in photography. Also, predictably, John befriends nerdy outcast Sam (McAuliffe) and has a few tiffs with Sarah’s jealous ex-boyfriend (Abel). Unfortunately for John, though, his special abilities begin to emerge which he struggles to control, and the Mogadorians are drawing close.
I Am Number Four essentially plays out like a big-screen version of Smallville that was re-jigged for the Twilight crowd. And on that note, it feels more like a pilot to a television series than the big-budget beginning of a feature film franchise. The first hour of I Am Number Four is notably awful – the mythology is generic, the names given to the aliens and their technology are laughably goofy, the Mogadorians are over-the-top (looking like a strange cross between the vampires from 30 Days of Nightand the Romulans from Star Trek), several loose threads are haphazardly incorporated to set up the franchise, and the insipid high school drama is trite to the point of being sheer torture. Why does Number Four feel the need to attend high school, anyway? Why can’t he just skip school like John Connor and be a badass rather than a generic clothing store mannequin? Whenever a high school drama is introduced in this day and age, one can only think Twilight. Heck, for further similarity, Number Four even develops a crush on a girl he can’t get out of his head. And, for best effect, the soundtrack of popular music plays out as if the director chose tracks by putting his iPod on shuffle.
At the very least, I Am Number Four improves in its final half-hour or so, when it finally shuts up and gets down to the business of being a Michael Bay-produced action flick rather than a corny, melodramatic teen romance. At this point the movie rouses to life, delivering some pulse-pounding action set-pieces and surprisingly decent special effects. There’s high-tech gadgetry, telekinetic battles, cars being hurtled, a few badass giant monster battles, space daggers, incredibly cool laser guns, and fireballs. Hey, even the hot Australian actress Teresa Palmer was thrown in for good measure! The craftsmanship during this period is surprisingly decent as well, with director Caruso disposing of his Michael Bay-esque routine of shaky-cam and rapid-fire cutting (seen in Eagle Eye) in favour of a smoother, more refined cinematic style. It’s unfortunate, then, that I Am Number Four is weighed down by the hackneyed routine of high school drama which we must endure before getting to the money shots and engaging set-pieces.
The selection of actors were clearly chosen on the basis of looks rather than acting believability. In the role of John Smith/Number Four, Alex Pettyfer displays no charisma, no vulnerability and no screen presence, and there is no detectable emotion or warmth to anything he does. Watching the guy on-screen is like flipping through a clothing store catalogue. The girls will have their eye candy, sure, but Pettyfer needs to attend acting school pronto if he wants more work in the industry. Meanwhile, Dianna Agron cut her acting teeth on the TV show Glee, which should be an indicator of her “talent”… Timothy Olyphant, on the other hand, is one of the only veterans, and he’s effortlessly cool as Henri. Olyphant disperses a number of good lines on top of being downright awesome. And in the role of Number Six, Teresa Palmer is somewhat decent as well as being amazingly, unbelievably hot, especially when she’s allowed to let loose and kick ass. It’s a shame, then, that Palmer’s screen-time is so limited.
With attractive adolescents and their high school lives taking centre stage within the narrative, I Am Number Four aims to appeal to teenagers and satiate the Twilight crowd. It does not hold much appeal beyond the superficial, though, with the aliens feeling underdeveloped and with a distinct lack of action or anything remotely engaging until the final act. This is not a good film, but at the very least it’s not entirely unwatchable despite the bland dramatic elements.