Title: I Am Number Four
Directed By: D.J. Caruso
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Kevin Durand, Jake Abel
Movies about characters with super powers are inherently alluring. There’s something extremely fun about watching someone walk around knocking villains off the face of the earth. Oddly enough, what can kill the enjoyment of films like this isn’t shoddy effects or lack of reason, rather simply not believing in itself. If the characters aren’t entirely into the story, how can an audience be? I Am Number Four has just about every problem in the book, but it’s the major disconnect between director D.J. Caruso, his cast and the material that makes the film a downright waste of time.
Alex Pettyfer is David, or John, or Number Four. He’s actually one of nine teen aliens hiding on Earth since the destruction of their home planet, Lorien. Each has a guardian to protect them from the evil Mogadorians who are ruthlessly hunting them one-by-one. One, Two and Three have already been killed and John is next. In order to maintain his secrecy, he’s constantly relocating and changing his identity.
The problem is, in his newest town, Paradise, Ohio, John finds a reason to stay for good, Sarah Hart (Dianna Agron). John also finds a friend in the school geek, Sam (Callan McAufliffe), who’s got a deeper connection with John than just being school bully Mark’s (Jake Abel) favorite targets. As the Mogadorians draw near, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John’s guardian, urges him to pack up and leave yet again, but John insists he’s got something to stay and fight for, and fight he does.
Maybe there was something to Jobie Hughes and James Frey’s novel by the same name, but the adaptation from writing trio Al Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon is absolute junk. There’s a major missed opportunity right from the start. The film opens with the murder of Number Three. What could have been an incredibly dark and threatening opening is shot sloppily and then drenched in terrible special effects. It’s not scary, it’s not foreboding, rather just a wasted opportunity of developing suspense.
Things don’t get much better when we meet our protagonist. First off, his introduction is completely inconsistent with the plot. Henri insists John keep a low profile, so why would he be the big man on campus? Dashing John rides his jet ski into a pack of girls on the beach and greets them with swagger, yet when he gets to his new school, he’s practically a reserved mute who thinks laying low simply means wearing your sweatshirt with the hood up. Even worse, Pettyfer is pretty awful in the role. In fact, he doesn’t deliver much of a performance at all. When he’s not leering for the camera, he’s Edward Cullen to the max, sulking and mumbling his lines. Thanks to his “legacies,” the powers passed down by his parents, John may be packing a serious electrical charge, but you certainly wouldn’t know it based on Pettyfer’s performance – or lack thereof.
Speaking of painfully boring characters, Sarah is Quinn from Glee minus the singing and dancing. Basically, she’s dull all around. First off, the character herself is lackluster. She’s entirely built on truisms. She’s the popular girl turned loner who lurks in the corner taking photos with – gasp – a film camera. Now how retro is that? Actually, perhaps it’s a good thing the writers stuck a camera in her hands, otherwise Agron would literally have had nothing to do and if she did any less with this role, she might have gone unnoticed entirely.
Pettyfer is generally new on the scene and Agron has yet to step outside the confines of Glee, but Olyphant can definitely be described as wasted talent here. Henri is as one-dimensional as they come, always acting super serious and, of course, getting hit with the line, “You’re not my father.” Olyphant tries and it’s obvious, but there is absolutely nothing he can do with this lifeless character in this nonsensical story.
The only two characters that show some sparks are Sam and Number 6 (Teresa Palmer). Perhaps it’s just because Pettyfer is so uninteresting, but as the only other good alien in the film, Palmer is quite fun to watch. She doesn’t get much screen time and when she does it’s often misplaced, often inserted with no context, but that’s not to say the girl can’t put up a good fight. Most of her dialogue consists of quick one-liners, but when she says them, she’s really saying them as Number 6 whereas Pettyfer is merely playing Number 4.
Similarly, McAuliffe makes a good effort at turning Sam into a multidimensional character and it almost works. He’s your classic nerd and his situations are predictable, but there’s something very likeably about the guy. Whereas most of the characters in this film are like zombies, Sam has some life to him and when he’s on screen, the film gets a new vigor to it.
As for the technical elements, it seems as though just about everything was ignored except the soundtrack. However, the songs on this soundtrack are clearly chosen to make an attractive CD rather than to enhance the film. Visually, I Am Number Four is just like the characters, boring. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro keeps things as basic and stagnant as possible, which is adequate for conversation scenes, but absolutely disastrous when it comes to capturing the action. Navarro can handle the coverage when keeping the view wide, but all attempts to get up close fail entirely, merely capturing obscure color trails rather than actual action.
The only thing this film has going for it are pretty faces and even the demographic those faces are geared towards attracting will be onto Caruso’s nonsense. The plot and dialogue are dumbed down to the extreme, yet the story still makes little to no sense. John’s adventure is entirely unconvincing thanks to weak character goals making it feel as though I Am Number Four is going nowhere fast. Why are these nine aliens so important? Why do the Mogadorians want to kill them? Why isn’t the government up in arms when word of John’s abilities get out? Why doesn’t anyone suspect something when they hear violent growling from inside a tractor-trailer? The list of questions can go on and on, but after sitting through the film, you won’t even care to answer them.
By Perri Nemiroff