I Am Number Four
Release Date: February 18, 2011
Director: D.J. Caruso
Writers: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon (screenplay), Jobie Hughes (novel) (as Pittacus Lore) & James Frey (novel) (as Pittacus Lore)
Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant and Dianna Agron
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: I Am Number Four is a cookie-cutter sci-fi movie about a kid from another planet dealing with the emergence of magical powers while simultaneously dealing with the onset of puberty and the struggles of fitting in at a new high school (the former becoming a metaphor for the latter). In short, it’s nothing you haven’t seen on Smallville, X-Men or countless other shows, films and comic books before. The themes explored are overly-familiar, most of the characters are one-dimensional and you’ll see every plot turn coming a mile away.
Now, the good news: if you can look past all that, it’s actually a really fun film. Even though it’s a familiar story, it’s one that’s told well. The pacing is great too – never once did the film drag. All the important pieces are set up really well early in the film and it all builds up to a really exciting and visually-impressive climactic battle sequence.
The story focuses on “John Smith” (Alex Pettyfer), who informs us via lazy voice over narration that he is one of the last of an alien race. On his home planet, his people were killed by the Mogadors, an evil race that look a bit like Lord Voldemort if he got a Bam Bam Bigelow-style head tattoo. John and eight others were sent to Earth along with a guardian to watch over them until they were old enough and powerful enough to rise up against the Mogadors.
John and his guardian “Henri” (Timothy Olyphant) move around from place to place doing their best to stay off the grid. As the film opens, we learn that three of the nine survivors have been killed by the Mogadors. John is number four, which means he’s next on their hit list. (This is the film’s biggest plot hole: Henri tells John that the nine must eventually unite to defeat the Mogadors, but it is never explained why they separated in the first place – a decision that has clearly made it easier for the Mogadors to simply pick them off one by one.)
Further complicating things is that fact that, for the first time in his life, John forms an attachment to the town they are living in – Paradise, Ohio. He befriends the high school’s resident nerd Sam (Callan McAuliffe), who also, as luck would have it, is obsessed with UFOs after his dad mysteriously disappeared one night in the woods. John also develops a crush on the school’s resident cute, artsy girl Sarah (Dianna Agron), who dreams of one day leaving her small town behind. And, of course, John ends up crossing the school bully Mark (Jake Abel), who feels he can do whatever he wants because his dad is the sheriff.
John must balancing his desire to fit in and to experience love for the first time with the looming threat of the Mogadors and of being outed at school as an alien (an ever-increasing threat as new powers begin to emerge that John can’t yet control).
Along the way, we get a shape shifting dog, a tractor-trailer filled with mysterious, deadly creatures and a variety of really cool superpowers (including teleportation, glowing palms and John’s Force-like ability to lift objects with the sweep of his hands).
The special effects, for the most part, are well done. Whenever a Mogador or one of John’s people die, they instantly turn to dust, which is really cool. Every time John Force pushes an object, it’s a joy to watch.
The action scenes in the film are a bit more hit-or-miss though. The early scenes are all too dark and choppy, making them impossible to follow. However, the final battle is really well done and is really enjoyable to watch.
Timothy Olyphant and Teresa Palmer (who plays Number Six) are both really great in the film, though sadly both are underutilized. We only get brief glimpses of the captivating intensity Olyphant is capable of delivering onscreen and Palmer only really shows up at the end of the film (though they are clearly establishing her for the sequel, which is no doubt already in the works). The rest of the performances in the film range from adequate to forgettable.
I Am Number Four is not a great film and I wonder if it has enough of a story to sustain the franchise they are clearly hope this becomes. But, if you are looking for a good escapist action movie that you can shut your brain off and enjoy this weekend, I think you’ll walk away from this film happy.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.