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I Am Number Four (2011)

February 18, 2011

 

written by: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, & Marti Noxon; based on the book, I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Jobie Hughes & James Frey)

produced by: Michael Bay, Chris Bender, J.C. Spink, & David Valdes

directed by: D.J. Caruso

rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and for language)

114 min.

U.S. release date: February 18, 2011

 

I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m a sucker for a good teen story, knowing full well they are hard to come by. Although my wonder years are long gone,  I still have a fondness for a film (be it Hollywood or indie) that can somewhat accurately depict the most precarious years in one’s life. That being said, finding an entertaining teen-centric movie where the characters aren’t emo brooders, pasty-white sun-sparklers, or shirtless lone wolves, requires some superpowers. Well, that is exactly what can be found in this sci-fi action thriller from director D. J. Caruso (“Disturbia” and ” Eagle Eye”), who toys with UPN-style comic book sensibilities.  It’s an odd conundrum in that it provides light entertainment as well as unintentional comedy, while eventually being quite forgettable.

Years ago, nine fugitives from the planet Lorien, were scattered across our planet at a very young age in order to evade the wrath of the merciless Mogadorian alien race. These evil aliens are like walking tall Great Whites (literally, they have insane razor teeth and gills on each side of their nose), carrying wicked laser guns in their black trench coats. Destructive madness is their thing, with no motive as to why they are set to wipe out all Loriens, or what they will do with Earth once all these kids are gone. The goal is for these Loriens to live in seclusion or hide in plain sight, whatever keeps them alive.  It is unclear if they are assuming human form or if they are all just naturally handsome/beautiful humanoid specimens. These are some of the many unresolved quandaries that will not be answered. It’s just not that kind of movie.

 

iamnumber4stud

 

By the time we’re introduced to a Lorien named Number Four (Alex Pettyfer of “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” fame ), we have already surmised that Numbers One thru Three and each of their respective guardians assigned to protect them have been eliminated.  Number Four stumbles upon this information in a socially awkward way and soon he and his resourceful guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant, “Justified”) depart from their beach home in the Florida Keys to the safety of Paradise, Ohio. Traveling together, Four  as the adolescent and Henri as the adult likely in his early 40′s, it looks like they could be father and son, uncle and nephew. No questions asked. But they are two aliens who know if they stay in one place too long, they will be found by those who wish them dead.

Henri knows this well and also knows he has to remind the rambunctious Number Four that his parents, their entire race sacrificed their lives so they could live. It’s a story similar to that of a farmboy sent to Earth from the doomed planet Krypton. So right, not a whole lot of originality here but in its familiarity, it works. The tech-savvy Henri is somehow hooked up with all the latest gadgets, laptops and iPhones and soon assigns Number Four a name, John Smith (yeah, that won’t draw attention), and enrolls him in the local high school.

He asks John to lay low, don’t draw attention and the like, but we know better. We know how this will play out. There’s no way this new kid, a surfer-looking model dude, isn’t going to get noticed though. Right away, we can access that obnoxious star quarterback, Mark (a young Kevin Bacon-looking Jake Abel, “Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief”), leader of the bullying jocks will be the antagonist, and that John will defend and befriend both the UFO-obsessed nerdling, Sam (Callan McAuliffe, “Flipped”) and kind photographer Sarah (Dianna Agron “Glee”) will fall for John and he for she. Although this is Paradise, typical teen angst and true love must be put on since there are several problems percolating at every turn.

 

iamnumber4girl

 

Beyond the typical teen rebellion, Henri has to deal with John’s burgeoning powers, called “Legacies”, that are abruptly manifesting. It starts with these blue lights that burst out of his palms, looking like an organic gift from Tony Stark and then we see him grasp with telekinesis, super-strength, and semi-flight. We learn that such power may be the only thing that can stop the pursuing Mogadorians, led by Commander (another over-the-top turn by Kevin Durand, “Lost”) their unintentionally hilarious leader. They’re not the only ones tracking down John though, there’s also the mysterious blonde Aussie (Teresa Palmer, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) who has her own agenda once she meets up with the folks in Paradise. The inevitable showdown is eminent in which John must embrace his destiny and rise up against some ugly aliens without getting those he cares about killed.

What caught my attention in Caruso’s “Disturbia” was how he had successfully emulated and paid homage to other directors. There were some fun nods to the way Steven Spielberg and John Hughes handled teen life as he riffed on Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”. These were obvious nods, done well, not a frame by frame ripoff, so I didn’t mind.  Here, there is still a faint semblance of Spielberg’s watchful eye (this is after all a Dreamworks movie, actually their first pairing with one-time competitor Disney as their Touchstone serves as distributor), but a stronger presence is felt by producer Michael Bay. There are many unintentionally humorous moments that reminded me of Bay (for the record, I’m not a total Bay-hater), like the slo-mo action shots with characters confidently walking away from an explosion or turning around with an gaping-open mouth. Good times. In the long run, quite unforgivable but I caught myself in the moment, grinning in the theater.

Something else that is quite noticeable is the resemblance to television shows like “Smallville” or  “Buffy the Vampire Slayer ”.  There’s a reason for this since it’s written by Alfred Gough, Miles Miller, and Marti Noxon, all of whom had a hand in those two shows. So, it’s no surprise then that the climactic high-octane battle at the end practically levels a high school. In a television show there is plenty of time to find a voice and develop characters, but here the teen dialogue and situations is drab and often just plain silly. When you find yourself longing for crazy action to take place over any character development, well that’s a bad sign.

President’s Day has become the time for teen fantasy/adventure movies, especially ones adapted from popular Young Adult novels (“The Bridge to Terabithia”, The Spiderwick Chronicles” and last year’s “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief”). “I Am Number Four” continues that practice in that it is based on a pre-teen book by Pittacus Lore (a pen name for Jobie Hughes and controversial writer James Frey), hoping to capitalize on this formula. Tapping into a built-in audience with obvious franchise-seeking goals hasn’t work for those other movies and it’s unlikely to work here. Even though Caruso ambitiously hints at another movie, it’s highly doubtful we’ll see more of Number Four or any other Numbers, for that matter.

Clearly relying heavily on a thin and breezy plot, this CGI-heavy experience isn’t out to wow audiences with a display of thespian prowess. English actor Pettyfer vacillates from wooden to serviceable while his American accent is about as wonky as his powers. Still, he and all the other teens are doing what the roles ask of them, which is nothing groundbreaking. I wished there was more to Olyphant’s character though, the guy is always easy to watch in whatever role he’s playing and often winds up rising above mediocrity (“A Perfect Getaway” is a perfect example). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Durand, who continues to play the hammy heavy he’s played countless times. It was great to see him try something a little different in last year’s “Robin Hood” but I guess once you’re known for something, it’s hard to stay away from “that guy” status.

This is the kind of movie that will find a good majority in the age range of 11 to 18, flocking to the theaters on the weekend. If  you were like me, and went out with a group of your teen peers on a Friday night to check out this kind of movie, then you might be open to checking this out. You’re movie palette has likely matured just as mine has, but if you dig the genre and are open to a fun time at the movies after catching up on all your Oscar films and documentaries, than this one just may be your number.

 

 
iamnumber4duo
 
 
 

RATING: **1/2

 
 
 
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