I Am Number Four is the latest teen-fiction novel to hit the big screen. It’s clearly aimed at the Twilight audience, but it also wants the male demographic, so there’s a bit of smooching and an abs-tastic male lead for the chicks, and some hot babes and explosions for the boys. The film has many flaws, the main one being its cliché riddled plot, which gives the impression that we’ve seen it all before, and indeed we have.
The script for I Am Number Four was written by the unholy trinity of Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Marti Noxon. Gough and Millar are the gentlemen behind Smallville and Noxon has penned many episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and all this experience in television has gone to good use in creating what is in effect an expensive pilot episode for a non-existent television show. Think Smallville meets The Sarah Connor Chronicles. No teen cliché is left untouched; stock characters including the bullying jock, the geeky best friend and the kooky love interest are present and correct, all this and our hero strives forward in his destiny to find out who he really is. To be fair, Gough, Millar and Noxon aren’t the only ones to blame, oh no, they based their script on the novel by Pittacus Lore. Lore is in fact a pseudonym for authors James Frey (the man who was panned, slammed and then banned by Oprah for making up his “autobiography”) and Jobie Hughes. Are these guys so ashamed of their work that they can’t publish under their own names? If they are they should have used a more realistic alias, say something like John Smith.
John Smith is the main character of I Am Number Four and he’s played by pretty boy Alex Pettyfer. In fact he is the titular Number Four, but Number Four isn’t really his name, it’s John Smith, but even that’s not his name, because John is an alien, who is hiding on earth from another, more evil alien race.
Confused? Well, don’t be, it’s all pretty simplistic. Smith is from the planet Lorien – or L’Oreal, judging by his neatly styled golden locks. Lorien was destroyed by the Mogadorians, but there were nine survivors, the first three have been tracked down and killed by the butt-ugly Mogadorians, and now it’s time for, yes, you guessed it Number Four. However, Four isn’t alone, he has a guardian called Henri (Timothy Olyphant) to keep him company. Henri keeps John on the straight and narrow, always telling him keep a low profile, even going so far as banning him from going to school. However, John is a teenager and disregarding authority is what he does best – that and having super strength. Oh, and he can blast blue fireballs from his hands. Soon after their arrival in the town of Paradise, John, begins to grow bored, and yearns to join others his own age in an educational emporium. Can’t you tell he’s an alien? He wants to go to school!
Soon John arrives at school where he befriends the local alien obsessed geek Sam (Callan McAuliffe), whose life has been “like an episode of The X-Files” due to the disappearance of his father during a U.FO. hunt. Gee, I wonder if this coincidence will be useful to move the plot along later on? Before John can even find his way to his new locker his head is turned by the kooky Sarah (Glee’s Dianna Agron), we know she’s kooky because she wears a beret and uses an old film camera, when like, all the kids use their mobile phones. Soon love is in the air, which is kind of gross considering that John, is in fact an alien, but to be fair this is no less creepy than the relationship between Edward (a hundred year old vampire) and Bella (a teenager) in Twilight. Anyway, Sarah’s former flame Mark is the school jock and geeky Sam’s tormentor, and soon John rubs him up the wrong way, trouble ensues, but nothing like the trouble that will be happen once the evil Mogadorians show up in Paradise. Somewhere along the line we are introduced to Number Six (Teresa Palmer) in what appears to be an explosive Adele video, however, Six is all but forgotten until the climax, where she does her best impression of Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 while rescuing John and Sarah from the clutches of the Mogadorians and their hungry CGI pet.
I don’t mean to sound too harsh on I Am Number Four, but it’s simply not a great film. The actors are all competent, Trevor Rabin’s action score is functional and the special effects aren’t terrible, although there are a few moments where it looks like the boys at ILM decided to let the intern take control of the mouse. The film is completely let down by the rampant clichés and the confines of the story. It needed to be opened up, taken on the road and out of the geographical boundaries of Paradise. When an important fight scene takes place in a High School Corridor then you know you’re in trouble. Well that is unless you’re watching Grosse Point Blank.
Director D.J. Caruso started off his career so well with 2002’s The Salton Sea, before helming the Shia LaBeouf double bill of Disturbia and Eagle Eye. The Val Kilmer starrer implied that he had some directing chops, but I Am Number Four shows Caruso struggling to make the material interesting. Visually, the film is incredibly flat, and it’s a wonder that producer Michael Bay didn’t come and shake things up with some handheld camera work and whiz-bang edits. The poor visuals and the all too familiar story again illustrate that this teen targeted effort is best suited for television.
I Am Number Four was supposed to be a franchise starter, but the film barely covered its $50 million production budget with its US release, so it’ll have to rely on DVD in order to secure a follow-up. I doubt the film will ever have a rabid fan base, but at the very least the film should shift a few copies (or downloads) of its pop strewn soundtrack.
It’s a limited affair with regards to special features. A gag reel reveals that the cast aren’t totally perfect and they can make mistakes when saying their lines. Meanwhile, the “Becoming Number 6” featurette offers Teresa Palmer almost as much screen time as the actual film.