I Am Number Four (* / ****)
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron, Timothy Olyphant
Director: D.J. Caruso
I Am Number Four, based on the 2010 young adult novel by Pittacus Love, has but one distinction going for it. It is by far the loudest picture I’ve seen this year. It consequently forced me into something I virtually never do in a movie theater: using my headphones as emergency earplugs. You’d think that director D.J. Caruso helmed the first two acts before handing the reins to producer Michael Bay in time for the ending as if he were a kid loosed inside a candy store. It has to be the only possible explanation for this utter headache of a film.
Aside from that, Number Four is merely the latest misbegotten attempt at kickstarting another would-be Harry Potter franchise, but the end result here actually makes Chris Columbus’ 2010 take on Percy Jackson and the Olympians look like Oscar material in comparison. Meanwhile, the oft-retreaded teen-outsider-with-strange-powers schtick was done far better in the underappreciated 2006 ABC Family series “Kyle XY.”
The script features some contrived story about nine last surviving members of an alien race called the Loriens, who have made their home on Earth in order to escape another group of aliens known as the Mogadorians. The film opens with the nameless Numbers One, Two and Three being dispatched; their nemeses are a race of large humanoid males with black markings on their bald heads and gills on their faces. (Not much originality in the makeup department there, since not one of them is ever seen underwater.)
Enter the eponymous Number Four (Alex Pettyfer), who we first see pulling impressive Jet Ski stunts at a beach party somewhere in sunny Florida. He goes for a dip in the ocean at night with a girlfriend when something on his leg starts beaming like a spotlight. The partygoers predictably panic, which, of course, spawns the immortal line, “He’s some sort of freak!” (Considering the freakish things teenagers are exposed to nowadays, a Mag-Lite appendage would seem pretty benign in comparison.) It turns out that it’s one of a series of symbols that appears to sear itself into his skin whenever one of his brethren bites the dust.
With his cover blown, he has to go on the lam with his protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), seeking seclusion in rainy Paradise, Ohio, in a conveniently foreclosed house out in the sticks. Number Four is given a new name – John Smith – and a new peroxide coiffure (he was previously a brunette). Guess equating blond with attractive doesn’t just apply to we girls in the movies. John vetoes Henri’s plan of homeschooling and opts for regular high school instead, getting his wish on the condition that he’s not to become involved with anyone. Figure out where that goes.
On his first day alone, John develops a crush on the pretty outsider, Sarah (“Glee’s” Dianna Agron), a photography buff who once dated Mark, the star quarterback (Jake Abel), who regularly bullies Sam, the science fiction geek (fresh-faced Callan McAuliffe, looking too young for a high schooler). Oh, and Mark’s father happens to be the town sheriff and John learns that Sam’s own father went missing under mysterious circumstances.
John also has an odd ability to shoot searchlights out of his palms. While it’s pertinent to his telekinetic powers, for a race trying to live undetected, that’s probably not a nice addition unless in the event of a power outage. Last but not least, there’s a Lassie archetype in the form of a magical beagle sent to keep an eye on John. If you’re still with me at this point, congrats.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Number Four is pretty awful. The aforementioned literary siphoning would’ve been easily forgiven if only the plot itself weren’t a block of Swiss cheese. Why would the Loriens enter our atmosphere to hide out if the Mogadorians were capable of doing the same? Why do the ones we see all look as if they’ve stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog (re: young and white)? What purpose do the Loriens serve, exactly? What’s the point of their existence if they have to live under 24/7 protection? And my personal gripe: why would someone as attractive as John bleach his hair blond if he’s trying to go unnoticed at school?
Teresa Palmer has a sporadic appearance as Number Six (there’s no Number Five here, but hey, it’s not my story). She is secretly tailing John and attempting to throw the Mogadorians off his trail. Despite inexplicably having such little screen time, she still shows up on cue for the big showdown at the end to explain everything to him. Her presence would have been far more appealing had the film ever bothered giving us any opportunity to get to know her other than her purpose of kicking ass and taking names, but she’s still the most entertaining character herein by a country mile.
The only genuinely amusing moment in this tempest of self-seriousness involves an enormous beast that the Mogadorians keep confined inside a crate on an 18-wheeler, and whose sustenance consists entirely of – get this – frozen turkeys. The biggest turkey of all is saved for the audience by way of the climax, an earsplitting Michael Bay orgasm of huge guns, fights and explosions (all on the high school campus, including the football field), capped off by the most horrific CGI creature battle I personally have seen since 1997’s equally awful Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. At least the animation here is much better.
When either the Mogadorians or the Loriens are killed, their bodies dissipate into swirling gray dust. The audience will feel like doing the same after learning that Number Four has the audacity to leave a hangar-sized opening for a sequel. But after this wreck, chances of it ever seeing the light of day are fairly slim, which means I’m spared the duty of conjuring up “number two” jokes a year or two from now.
© 2011 Jane F. Carlson
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