- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © DreamWorks Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
dapting young-adult novels into movies has become big business for Hollywood over the last few years, but the success of the “Twilight” films has led studios to focus on a specific type of story – namely, ones about mopey teenagers falling in love with just the right amount of action to convince male moviegoers to tag along with their female counterparts. “I Am Number Four” is a particularly curious case because DreamWorks seems so desperate to prevent the film from being pigeonholed as a "Twilight" clone that the trailers would have you believe it's an action movie. It may think it’s above such teen angst drivel, but “I Am Number Four” is just more of the same – only with aliens.
Alex Pettyfer stars as the titular Number Four, a seemingly ordinary teen who's hiding his true identity under the alias John Smith. He's really part of an alien race that was all but destroyed by the evil Mogadorians, and is one of nine gifted children who were protected by their elders and sent to Earth for a higher purpose. Recently, the Mogadorians have begun hunting them down one by one, and when John’s cover is blown following the death of Number Three, he and his bodyguard Henri (Timothy Olyphant) head to the small town of Paradise, Ohio to start a new life. John’s plans to lie low don’t last long, however, after he falls for a cute photographer (Diane Agron) and befriends a geeky conspiracy theorist (Callan McAuliffe) whose father has ties to the alien visitors. But when the Mogadorians manage to track him down, John decides to stop running and fight back with his newly earned superpowers.
Whenever you’re dealing with a story based in fantasy, there’s bound to be plenty of mythology to explore, and “I Am Number Four” is no exception. But while a lot of movies like this tend to get bogged down in trying to explain all the rules of its world, director D.J. Caruso glosses over many of the important details in order to get to the heart of the story. That may sound like a good thing, but it actually causes just as many problems. Whether it’s because the filmmakers want to keep certain things a secret for future installments, or because they themselves are just as much in the dark, it’s hard to become invested in John’s journey when we’re oblivious to what exactly is at stake in this intergalactic war. Instead, we just get a whole lot of high school drama that feels more like “The Karate Kid” than some epic sci-fi adventure, with John spending more time battling a pack of Cobra Kai bullies instead of the nasty aliens that want him dead.
Then again, not even the Mogadorians (which look like a mix between Lord Voldemort and the Romulan baddies from “Star Trek”) are particularly intimidating, as their leader is played almost to comic effect by Kevin Durand. He sticks out like a sore thumb, camping it up while the rest of the cast treats the material with dour seriousness. It’s hard to blame any of the actors, though, because Alex Pettyfer and Diane Agron are easily more tolerable than the “Twilight” trio, and Timothy Olyphant is quite enjoyable in the guardian role. It's mostly just a variation of his sarcastic badass act, but it works.
By the time Teresa Palmer’s feisty tough chick (fellow alien Number Six) enters the picture, the film really starts to takes off, albeit 90 minutes too late, as she’s essentially hidden away until the climactic set piece when “I Am Number Four” finally delivers on the promise of its action-packed trailer. It’s understandable why Caruso wouldn’t want to introduce his secret weapon too soon – not only does Number Six have cooler superpowers, but she’s far more interesting – but by focusing on the love story instead of the war, he fails to spark the kind of interest necessary for future installments. The last thing we need is another “Twilight” – especially one targeted toward teenage boys.
Three-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of “I Am Number Four” is pretty telling of how poorly the movie performed in theaters. Although there are a handful of extras, including a nice collection of deleted scenes (with introductions to each by director D.J. Caruso), a featurette on Teresa Palmer’s badass alien Number Six, and a blooper reel, it’s a pretty half-baked effort on the part of the studio. You'll also find the standard DVD and digital copies of the film, but it’s hard not to feel like Disney is simply cutting its losses while it still can.