The virtual DVD racks on Netflix are littered with hopeful young-adult franchises trying too hard to become the next Harry Potter or Twilight phenomenon. Cirque du Freak? Percy Jackson & the Olympians? The Golden Compass? All based on a popular book series meant to start a whole new franchise… but every single one of them failed at the box-office. Not that that’s stopping the suits in Hollywood from snapping up the rights to even more series (The Hunger Games, Incarceron, etc.), and then bringing them to the screen with attractive teens, mediocre directors, and shitty scripts.
Which brings us to I Am Number Four.
It seems somewhere out in the cosmos a planet was attacked and decimated by a race of fish people called the Mogadorians. Are they actually fish people? I don’t know, but they do have gills on the face so we’ll go with it. The survivors (known as Loriens) came to Earth hoping to start anew, but the Sea Bass assassins followed and are now hunting them down, killing them, and stealing their jewelry. We’re told there were nine surviving Loriens, all teens, although each has a special guardian assigned to protect them for some unknown purpose that will be revealed at an undisclosed time. Why aren’t the guardians counted among the survivors? Who knows, but maybe it’s because they suck at their job. The killer Carp have already slaughtered teens one through three and have set their sights on number four. Because the only thing the evil Sturgeons like more than shiny necklaces is sequential math.
Number Four, aka John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), moves with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) to Paradise, Ohio and enrolls himself in school. He immediately befriends two people, and coincidentally they’re the exact two he needs to meet. Phew. Sam (Callan McAuliffe) is a sad-eyed geek harassed by school bullies because his dad was a firm believer in UFOs and aliens before he disappeared a few years prior. Sarah (Dianna Agron) is a nasally ex-cheerleader ostracized by the cool kids because she loves photography instead of the quarterback. John ignores Henri’s warnings and gets close to both of them, and it’s not long before the tingling in his pants triggers the arrival of new powers including super strength, extreme parkour, and LED hands.
The murderous Guppies pick up the trail and head for Paradise with a mysterious monster-filled trailer in tow which begs one of the many questions you’ll be asking to no avail. The normal looking teens have to struggle to avoid notice, but these cranially deformed, fanged and gilled bald guys with a penchant for Matrix-inspired fashion, large laser rifles, and literal monsters banging around in the trailer have yet to be stopped by the police or catch anyone’s attention?
Other potential head scratchers include: if the teens are stronger together why have they all split to different parts of the world? Why are the guardians such pussies? Why are they waiting around instead of bringing the fight directly to the malevolent Minnows? Why do they have to be killed in sequence? How did they get here? No seriously, why are the guardians such pussies?
The movie isn’t a complete disaster though thanks to a handful of interesting action/effects scenes focused near the end. A fight in and around the high school features some fun action that mixes acrobatics with CGI, and while it’s well done the best thing about it is actually seeing Teresa Palmer strut her stuff as Number Six. She’s glimpsed a couple times prior in short scenes, but her entrance here plays like an ode to Linda Hamilton’s asylum visit in Terminator 2. Her character arrives way too late to save the movie, but she looks damn fine and plays the cocky, ass-kicking alien with just the right amount of attitude. Seriously, an I Am Number Six movie would have been a hellava lot more fun.
So what exactly does Keith Coogan have to do with any of this? Absolutely nothing, but I Am Number Four is basically Starman meets Hiding Out, and that made me think of Coogan who starred in both the Jon Cryer comedy and an episode of the short lived Starman TV series. A tenuous connection? Obviously, but this movie suffers from a severe lack of personality and energy and Coogan, while consistently stuck in supporting roles, has always exhibited both traits. No one in this cast can claim the same. Olyphant comes closest, but his role is limited and muted by the needs of the character. And Pettyfer, while a capable young actor, just isn’t all that exciting.
I Am Number Four is based on the book by James Frey and Jobie Hughes (under the combined pseudonym of Pittacus Lore). Frey’s association should come as no surprise as much like his memoir novel A Million Little Pieces this story is filled with multiple scenes and events that don’t ring true… even for a science fiction adventure flick. Information is handed out sparsely and never explained. Not a single question that’s raised ever gets an answer. It’s no surprise the movie ends with a hook for a sequel as the book is just the beginning of a series, but that’s no excuse for making the entire film little more than a pretty introduction.
The Upside: Timothy Olyphant and Teresa Palmer make everything better; some solid special effects
The Downside: Screenplay is a mix of the unexplained and the stupid; the love story is unconvincing; nothing is explained; more of an introduction than a self-contained story; unbelievable even for a sci-fi film
On the Side: Teresa Palmer’s best film remains the Australian thriller Restraint… and it’s not just because she shows her gloriously naked ass.