I Am Number Four (Review)
I Am Number Four is a hilariously absurd, aggressively derivative mess that is too sloppily constructed to even hold its own unoriginal mythology together.
The story behind I Am Number Four should be an immediate deterrent from seeing the film at all. James Frey, author of the publicly debunked “memoir” All the Little Pieces, has started a massive ghost writing scheme in which he hires young aspiring writers, has them write a book, buys the rights, and then sells the film rights to a movie studio in an attempt to create the next Twilight (that is a term directly from Frey’s mouth, but I have no source so I cannot quote it). The first installment of this plan involves Jobie Hughes, credited as Pittacus Lore. I haven’t read the Lore’s novel that the movie was based on, but if it’s as messy as D.J. Caruso’s movie, I plan to stay as far away as I can.
I Am Number Four‘s storyline and mythology borrows from a massive collection of other sources, feeling horribly disconnected and piecemeal. As the film opens, a voiceover explains that there was a race of aliens that are being hunted down by other aliens called Mogadorians for absolutely no reason. After these tall, tattooed aliens destroy their prey’s home planet, nine of the good guys escape to Earth, where they are pursued and eliminated systematically (and apparently in order, since the first death of the movie is that of Number Three). Alex Pettyfer plays Number Four, who is cared for by his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant, clearly trying his best with what he is given). Upon learning of the death of Number Three, Number Four and Henri escape to a town suspiciously reminiscent of Forks or Smallville and Four gets sent to high school, where he struggles to fit in as he falls hard for a shy girl who likes photography and is dating the biggest jock in the school. He also finds his first friend in the school’s resident nerd. I am not joking. Later on, Number Six (Teresa Palmer) shows up to help Four fight off the Mogadorians, who have at this point changed their plans and want to take over Earth.
The entirety of I Am Number Four feels much like a direct-to-TV movie that would be right at home on the CW. The first and second acts of the film are nothing more than high school drama, as if somebody accidentally picked up a script from an episode of Smallville and the crew just went with that. The entire “misunderstood teen who has powers and likes the girl” storyline is aggressively unoriginal and, frankly, incredibly boring. There is barely any action until the last half hour or so, where the movie redeems itself slightly with an extended action sequence that demolishes the school. This is easily the strongest segment of the film, though it is still tarnished by increasingly bizarre and hilarious events such as a dog that can suddenly shapeshift and the sudden introduction of more new powers for Four and Six. Speaking of those powers, they feel cheap and game breaking here because there are constantly new ones being introduced until there seems to be nothing that these aliens cannot do. It further contributes to the complicated unoriginality of the whole piece. Honestly, I have never really cared for D.J. Caruso as a director. Disturbia was a shameless and inferior rip-off of what I feel is Hitchcock’s best movie (Rear Window), and I absolutely hated Eagle Eye in all of its mindless stupidity. Here is no different, as I Am Number Four is more of Caruso’s lackluster storytelling and average-at-best Michael Bay-style action (it comes as no surprise, then, that Bay produced the picture).
I made a little game out of guessing which actors were taking the movie seriously and which ones weren’t. Pettyfer and Palmer seemed to be trying a bit too hard, what with Pettyfer’s constant moody expressions tempered with intense ones, and Palmer’s overblown tough-girl act (she even walks away from an explosion without looking at it). Olyphant plays himself, essentially, but really just seems bored. The Mogadorians steal the whole movie, with outrageously hammy performances replete with snarling, sneering, and lip smacking. The actors portraying them stomp around with glee and if there is any reason to watch the film, if only to laugh at the absurdity of it, is the presence of these villains.
My review for I Am Number Four took longer to write than almost any of my other reviews that I have written. This is due largely in part to the fact that I had difficulty describing just how messy the film is; how the only entertaining element of the film is the hilariously over-the-top bad guys. At a loss for any other means to describe how brutally unoriginal this movie is, I can offer only a simple example: Number Four’s human name is John Smith. Now, that’s creativity.
Score: *1/2 (Out of 5)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for language.