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Movie Review: I Am Number Four

by Alan Rapp on February 18, 2011

in Print Reviews

Based on the young adult novel of the same name by Pittacus Lore I Am Number Four is somewhat bland coming of age tale of a high school aged alien (i.e. college aged actor) on the run from another group of aliens that want him dead. Incredibly silly, and more than a little dumb, the film tries to cover up most of its flaws with a sense of humor and some well executed special effects.

We meet the alien savior John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) and his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant) on the beaches of Florida before they hastily relocate to the scenic town of Paradise, Ohio, in an attempt to stay ahead of the other aliens.

These evil visitors to our world, known as the Mogadorians, are systematically hunting down nine children from John’s home planet in order of the numbers someone (the film never mentions who) has given them. Once these children are dead the Mogadorians plan to turn their attentions to the helpless earthlings.

Henri’s mission to keep John safe is compromised by a variety of factors including the beginning of John accessing his alien abilities, his inability to stay hidden and keep his face off the Internet, a new friend (Callan McAuliffe), his first girlfriend (Dianna Agron), and a group of bullies intent on showing the new kid who’s boss.

The movie certainly feels like it was cribbed from a young adult fantasy novel. Most of the sci-fi elements that surround John are pretty ridiculous and the film tries to spend the least amount of time on them as possible before throwing the alien boy into a new kid in school storyline. But, hey, at least he can use his hands as flashlights! That’s cool, right?

And the numbering of these children, at least for someone who hasn’t read the book, is confusing (not just to me, but it seems the screenwriters as well). The reason behind this chronological hunting is never given (nor why or how each child got their number). Why do they have to kill Number One first, Number Two second, and so on? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just kill the kids once they’ve been found, no matter in what order they were discovered? It’s a ridiculous rule that makes no sense, but that’s hardly anything new for middling sci-fi fantasty. Where the film completely loses me is when it throws its own ridiculous rules out of the window to stage its biggest action scene.

If we are to believe the Mogadorians must kill in order (as we are told at the beginning of the film) then the creatures shouldn’t and wouldn’t attempt to kill Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) while both Number 4 and Number 5 (who hasn’t even been located yet) are very much alive. But that’s exactly what happens when 6 finally shows up to save our boy. If you’re going to make the audience accept such a ludicrous premise on which the entire plot of the film relies the least you can do is stick to it for a couple of hours. It also doesn’t help that Palmer’s character, who has much more control of her abilities, kicks more ass in ten seconds as our protagonist does over the entire course of the film.

Aside from looking far too old for the role Pettyfer does his best with what he’s given to work with, but he does come off wooden and dimwitted at times. Agron, who most will recognize from Glee, has moments as well but her character is so paint-by-number (the once popular girl now turned even cooler outsider) it’s hard not to roll your eyes.

Other than major plot problems, perhaps the most disappointing thing about the film is the villains. The film can never decide if it wants the Mogadorians to be truly scary or have some humor as well. The result makes them funny in all the wrong ways. I was also confused why all the aliens seem to spontaneous burst into smoke and light when they die, and why something so unusual is so easily accepted by those who see it. It didn’t make sense in Elektra and doesn’t work here either.

I Am Number Four is a mess that’s far less entertaining than it should be. Young kids might enjoy it, but other than a few special effects sequences there’s really nothing here of much interest for anyone over the age of Four.

A stalwart fan of under-appreciated cinematic gems such as Condorman, Alan Rapp has harangued, belittled, and argued with just about every Scene-Stealers contributor ever. More of his insight, comic nerdiness, and righteous fury can be found at dadsbigplan, RazorFine Review, and ‘Xplosion of Awesome, and the Four Color Freak-Out podcast.

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