“I Am Number Four”? More like “I Am Number Snore”! Who didn’t see that joke coming? February is known for being the trademark “hit or miss” season for the movie industry, historically giving us duds like Jumper while also knocking it out of the park with some new classics like Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “Shutter Island”. It was this time last year that Shutter Island was released and that the film did impress me so much, which only makes it hurt that much more painful when we get a half-hearted adaptation like “I Am Number Four”. First off, I just wanna make it clear I don’t care that it’s based off a novel. Much like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, the film has to work on its own as a film before an adaptation. The movie tells a story of an alien species that are endowed with special powers called “legacies”. One by one each of the 9 super-powered beings are being picked off by an evil group of alien assassins, and our story follows #4 trying to survive on Earth and through the perils of high school. Aw shucks, it sure is hard being a teenager that has undefined superpowers, dealing with your tumultuous romance with your gorgeous stalker, a 1980s style school bully, not to mention the assassins on your tail, especially when almost none of it is wrote in a competent way. What can this guy do exactly? Who cares! Why are they trying to kill him? Who knows! Do any of these characters have any personality at all! Not at all! Not that any of that information is necessary, no, not at all. Maybe it would be best if I covered what I did like about it first. The film is marketed as a hardcore sci-fi/action film, which is like seeing an oasis in the middle of a desert for February movies. I Am Number Four delivers somewhat on this front, serving up one huge, 20 minute action set piece at the end (host of 90% of the trailer shots) that almost makes up for the drought of action through the first hour and a half. There’s a lot of zany stuff going on and there’s even some more sci-fi-esque gun and swordplay. While there are these spectacularly fun and great looking effect shots here and there that justify the big time budget, for every big set piece there’s at least three less-than-stellar action sets that didn’t do too much for me. Maybe it’s the shaky cam, maybe it’s the awkward lighting, or maybe it’s the fact there’s about a thousand cuts in there that make it close to impossible to follow, but that action wasn’t really engaging enough to keep me in tuned. If there’s any way you can just pay $2.50 for the last 1/4 of the movie, I could recommend the movie much easier.
The performances in the film are also pretty uninspired and and most of the time cruelly underwritten. Timothy Olyphant (FX’s Justified) pops in as 4’s guardian, and while the guy doesn’t have a lot of leg room seeing him on screen is a sight for sore eyes compared to some of these other film school dropouts. Alex Pettyfer (#4) almost destroyed my soul watching the movie. Having been rumored to have been a prima donna on the set of the film, he brings virtually nothing to the table in terms of charisma, charm, confidence, or heck, even personality. He’s turning in less of a performance as “John Smith” and more of the best portrayal of cardboard I’ve seen in 18 years of my movie going life. It’s like watching a young Hayden Christensen convinced he’s the new Andrew Garfield. Dianna Agron who plays the romantic lead in the movie might just be topping Kristen Stewart for blandest love interest of this very young century, seemingly speaking in slow motion 90% of the time. Callan McAuliffe plays the “sidekick” of sorts to #4, and totally knocks it out of “average” park. The most unintentionally hilarious performance though comes from Jake Abel as the high school bully, who I can only makes it seem like he thinks he’s playing “the bully” for the first time in cinematic history. Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to the film’s biggest flaw, the story itself. Where to begin? I’ll admit, while it’s not a total train wreck, and the film is enjoyable enough from start to finish to enjoy on a Saturday night, there are a few writing tinges that tripped my critical radar. It should be noted the movie is written by Smallville alums, which is pretty telling by a lot of the movie’s sequence of events. The story structure, mythology, character development, etc. is all set up like an awesome NBC pilot, and maybe that would’ve been a better option, but that doesn’t necessarily work when you stretch development that was originally over 22 mins to over 2 hours, especially when a sequel isn’t guaranteed. The name of the game here is consistency. While we see this #4 character on screen and are shown a few times what he’s capable of, we’re never really told what these powers of the “#s” really are exactly. For all we know he’s invincible and can talk to plants, and without a clear ground rule as to what his powers are it loses its punch, leaving us guessing what exactly he can do up until and past the final frame. One thing that did bother me about the writing itself was that the characters themselves, brought to “life” by the actors, never really have any personality. What we know about them is just what we’re told. This guy’s the nerd, this is the girl he likes, this is the bully, this is the boss, this is the bad guy, the character never really shows us anything to support that, and there are even times you feel like their actions contradict what we “know” about them (the nerd in this movie is one of the least nerdy characters I’ve ever seen). The script just throws that information at us like some sort of first draft slingshot. I’m all up for shallow characters in fast paced action romps (heck I’m a Michael Bay fan just as much as the next guy), but I honestly don’t know if I could describe any of the characters as more than “mysterious”. It’s high school, your life isn’t that complex and perplexing, trust me. The only thing mysterious about my high school career was how I was able to get accepted into my four year institution home. The characters in the film might as well be wearing name tags that say “Nerd”, “Bully”, and “Hero” written in bold letters. While it might sound picky, the villains of the film are also absent much of the movie, and whenever they show up you almost forget what they’re there for. One thing in films that either bothers me or I never notice has to be plot holes, and there are a few in #4 that leave me scratching my head at how they could’ve slipped under a writer’s radar. As I kinda went over earlier, the film does follow a teenager trying to live a disguise and go under the radar to avoid government suspicion or get killed by what looks and sounds like Voldemort’s cousin that stuck his head in a microwave. Basically it’s like the story of Spiderman in Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spiderman, it’s simple, don’t get noticed! However, for no reason at all, #4 has a really hard time with keeping under the radar.He hates the authority coming from his school and even his guardian played by Olyphant, even if it means putting the lives of everyone he knows and loves in danger. There’s a scene in the film where #4 and his girlfriend are on a hayride at a local harvest festival, that in one of the worst safety measures ever leaves the riders in the middle of the pitch black woods to “find their way back”. Anyways the psychotic school bully and his Karate Kid-inspired thugs attack them, and #4 without thinking starts using his flashlight-esque powers that just so happen to emit bright light to take them all down. This is the “pinnacle” moment that his girlfriend realizes he has superpowers, but it’s also the moment NOONE ELSE NOTICES HE HAS SUPERPOWERS. Not even the bullies, who are beaten senseless with them, say anything to rat the guy out. One of their fathers is even a cop, and yet no one bothers to point out to others he has powers. Heck, and you’d really think bright lights and screaming in the middle of a festival would find it’s way onto YouTube. Happens all the time I guess? There’s also, without spoiling anything, a last minute rescue during the big attack that could just top the fridge-nuking from Indy 4. To top it all off, at the end of the movie when we do meet the awesome #6 played by Teresa Palmer, who happens to have laser swords and nightcrawler-like powers, it’s not so much “that’s awesome!” as it is “why did I have to sit through 1 1/2 hours to get to this, why couldn’t the whole movie be about her?” It’s like making a whole movie about the training of Robin, and Batman shows up unexpectedly at the end and destroys all the bad guys for Robin. I Am Number Four is a bad movie. It’s not a terrible movie, heck it’s fun enough for a Saturday night if you can get past the awkward writing. Unfortunately the writing is stale, the performances don’t help anything, the dialogue is cumbersome like it’s being performed through a funnel, and by the end of it all you kinda wish this undeniable attempt at “Spiderman meets Twilight” had a little bit more impact.
2 out of 5