Image courtesy of Touchstone Studios.
“I Am Number Four” Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant and Dianna Agron. Directed by D.J. Caruso. 109 minutes. Rated PG-13.
(Note: Mladen Rudman could not make the screening of “I Am Number Four.”)
Sadly, “I Am Number Four” is not much more than a steaming pile of number two.
The film suffers from an extreme case of schizophrenia coupled with an identity crisis. Is it a love story? Is it an action movie? Is it “Twilight”? Is it a summer movie?
It is all of these things and consequently none, which leaves “I Am Number Four” hanging in sequel limbo, possibly lost forever to producers Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg who, along with novelist James Frey (writing as Pittacus Lore, upon whose books the movie is based ) clearly aimed to produce the next superhero teen-angst franchise.
The plot is simple … or maybe not. A small group of alien refugees has come to Earth after evil Mogadorians ransacked their world and slaughtered their people. They’re hiding among us, hoping to blend in, as a Mogadorian hit squad roams the world, killing them in order ( hence the title “I Am Number Four” ). Numbers one through three have been eliminated. John ( Pettyfer ) is next. He and his protector, Henri ( Olyphant ) arrive at a small town in Ohio where John enrolls in the local high school. He meets and develops feelings for the retro-chic Sarah ( Agron ); clashes with Sarah’s ex, Mark ( Jake Abel ), who happens to be the high school football team’s quarterback AND the son of the local sheriff; and hooks up with the school nerd, Sam ( Callan McAuliffe ), whose dad mysteriously disappeared while tracking down evidence of extraterrestrials. As the pecking order is sorted out the Mog hit squad arrives, looking very Matrixesque. All hell breaks loose. As hell is resolved and the potential for a sequel clarified, Number Six ( Teresa Palmer ) shows up and lends a gun to the climatic battle.
Is “Number Four” a love story? Well, sort of. Lots of quality time and kissing between John and Sarah, and not a wisp of romance between John and Number Six ( though Sam seems smitten by the blonde bombshell ). Clearly the two have a thing for one another, and Sarah has renounced her relationship with Mark. But – and this is a big “but” ( warning, spoilers follow ) – at the end of the movie John leaves Sarah ( or at least appears to do so … something that could easily be fixed in the next film) and we’re left wondering just how dedicated these two are to each other.
Is “Number Four” an action movie? It is if you stick around for the second half. In the first 30 minutes it’s nothing more than a massive info-dump and scene-setting vehicle. We see Number Three die and John and Henri leave their Florida hideout for the anonymity of Small Town Ohio. We see John go to high school and endure the alleged rituals peculiar to that stage of a person’s life. We get voice-over background about the Mog’s destruction of John’s home planet. Pretty boring stuff. Along about mile marker 34 things get interesting as the Mogs show up and John discovers the true extent of his alien powers ( lightning speed, super strength and flashlight hands! ). Meanwhile we also learn Sam’s dad’s disappearance might have had something to do with the Mogs, which makes him a permanent member of John’s growing retinue, and Number Six is closing in to make sure John doesn’t die ( What the heck is Number Five doing? Playing Farmville? ).
Is “Number Four” “Twilight”? You better believe it. Same target audience, same plot. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam turns out to be a werewolf.
Lastly, is it a summer movie? Let’s put it this way: When the weather is cold I like to open a bottle of Redhook ESB, a hearty ale with a hefty bite that seems to keep the chills at bay. We’re talking “Winter’s Bone” or “The King’s Speech.” Come warmer weather, with its high heat and humidity, I switch to lighter, frothier fare, say a Corona Light. “Number Four” is definitely a Corona Light. It requires no thinking. So why was it released in February?
“I Am Number Four” is shot through with plot holes and logic flaws. No explanation is ever given for the Mogs inimical behavior, or why they must kill the refugees in order. John’s protector, Henri, is easily overcome and kidnapped by a couple of Ohio rednecks. Sarah’s picture-taking hobby seems peculiarly out of touch with the times as she uses ordinary film and develops her own prints. And only fleeting reference is made to why the Mogs must kill the alien refugees – apparently they’re capable of some great power, which begs the question: Why didn’t they use that power when their world was under attack?
Worse, “Number Four” is a cliché machine. Why must every new kid in high school fall in love with the ex-girlfriend of the football team quarterback who is the sheriff’s son? Why is the picked-on, shunned nerd really the smartest kid in school who has hidden strengths but doesn’t show them until a sexy protector arrives? Why must the viewpoint character discover his extraordinary powers while resisting school bullies? And why must every adult in the film be so clueless?
Acting was serviceable. Pettyfer is not a bad-looking fellow and Agron did as much with her role as she could. Better was McAuliffe, and my favorite character in the movie, the Mog commander, played by Kevin Durand, reveled in his evilness.
As of this writing “I Am Number Four” has made about $38 million at the box office. If it clears $100 million a sequel will probably be made.
Don’t hold your breath. The movie dropped 43 percent at the box office in its second week, which is a bad, bad sign. I expect it to top out in the $50 million to $60 million range.
“I Am Number Four” is, in my opinion, a Netflix movie. Save your ticket dollars for “Battle: Los Angeles.”
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.