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I AM NUMBER FOUR, 2011
Extraordinary teen John Smith (Pettyfer) is a fugitive on the run from ruthless enemies sent to destroy him. Changing his identity, moving from town to town with his guardian Henri (Olyphant), John is always the new kid with no ties to his past. In the small Ohio town he now calls home, John encounters unexpected, life-changing events-his first love (Agron), powerful new abilities and a connection to the others who share his incredible destiny.
Release Date: 11 February 2011
Despite all the heaping criticism we cast on Hollywood there are lots of good reasons it makes the movies it does. Business reasons, for the most part, but show business is still a business and the reality is it's mostly adolescent and young adult men buying actual tickets so naturally a lot of films released over the year are going to be made specifically targeting those viewers, addressing their particularly concerns and fantasies. There are lots of good reasons for studios to do this.
Every bad reason can be summed up in one viewing of "I Am Number Four."
John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is special, so special that hordes of tattooed, snaggle-toothed killers want to see him dead, so he and his protector (Timothy Olyphant) traverse the country, always on the move, always trying to keep from being noticed. Because John is an alien, one of the last of his race and one of the few capable of keeping what happened to his world from happening to ours. If he can live long enough to grow up, that is.
Like I said, Hollywood makes lots of films like this every year, movies for young people they're called which means they're going to have a couple of different recurring attributes. The main character will be a teenager or close to it, and thus forced to be in high school where he can partake in all of the oft repeated clichés of high school life (mainly the ones about jocks bullying losers). He will have some sort of special ability making him greater and more awesome than his peers, but his or his family's safety will require him to hide that ability and pretend to be less than his truly is. Which means he will end up being bullied by one of the popular kids and will have to take it despite knowing he could stomp them at any time, but he's got bigger, more important problems. He will probably become the protector of some smaller, less awesome students. You get the idea.>
On paper it makes sense an in extremely cynical way. Narcissism and alienation go hand in hand with being a teenager – that utter certainty that no one understands you mixed with the casual understanding that the whole world revolves around you – so it's only natural films made for teenagers to like would have heaping quantities as well. Some of these films are successful, a great many of them aren't. Which doesn't stop Hollywood at all from repeating this same formula over and over and over again because someone somewhere has decided this is what young people want, and all that they want.
That kind of thinking is in constant exposure throughout "I Am Number Four" in all its ingloriousness.
John is a teenager now which means he's both burgeoning into his powers (as a trite and true metaphor for puberty) and beginning to strain against his guardian in a quest for his own identity. Which means, naturally, meeting a girl at his new school (Dianna Agron) and getting into a fight with her ex-boyfriend (Jake Abel) who is naturally the school's popular quarterback/bully. It's all a nice diversion, a chance for John to convince himself he can avoid his destiny, but little does he realize that destiny is coming for him in the shape of a bunch of giant, tattooed, befanged alien soldiers intent on killing him and everyone like him.
Which is extremely unoriginal, sure, but that doesn't mean it can't be entertaining. The odds are sure stacked against it though. Adapted from James Frey's controversial attempt to create a young adult novel franchise using recent MFA graduates as co-writers, in this case Jobie Hughes, "I Am Number Four" started out as assembly line, no-inspiration-required stuff to begin with and in that respect the film adaptation from experienced young adult adventure TV writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar ("Smallville") and Marti Noxon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") perfectly captures the essence of the source material.
Everything about this film is just … listless. Director D.J. Caruso ("Eagle Eye") is trying to shoot a richer film than he has the budget for and the result is action sequences just on this side of amateurish. Unfortunately he's not going to get much help from his actors either who, like a lot of young adult leads, have been chosen more for their looks than anything else and have trouble managing anything beyond broody or earnest. Only Kevin Durand ("Robin Hood") as the leader of the villainous Mogadorian's offers anything in the way interest, portraying his character as the universe's most psychotically downer parent, lecturing immature Earthmen and boys on how their love of television and videogames and lack of decent work ethic.
But most of the problems come down to the script, which is so badly put together it's hard to believe experienced professionals had anything to do with it. Besides the empty, thoughtless dialog and rote characterization, it has tremendous structural flaws. A major character who doesn’t get her first line of dialog or interaction with the other characters until the last 20 minutes of the film, completely takes over the climax and pushes several characters we have observed (and should in theory have become attached to) completely out of the way during the point where they're supposed to shine.
There have been a number of attempts in pop music over the last decade or so to use algorithms to create successful pop songs under the realization by producers the pop music is "formulaic, unchanging, and easy to compose."
"I Am Number Four" is the novel/film version of that thought, and it's just as empty as it sounds. Give it a look on video just to marvel at the sheer narcissism involved but don't stare too long. You might drown.
I AM NUMBER FOUR