The Golden Compass. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The Spiderwick Chronicles. Inkheart. The Vampire’s Assistant. Percy Jackson and the Olympians. (Hopefully) The Last Airbender. Trying to follow the mold of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, in the past decade there have been more than a handful of popular series that never make it past the first film adaptation. It is no wonder why those listed were prematurely canceled and Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings earn(ed) Oscar nominations – adapting a beloved series to the big screen is quite the feat. Definitely not Oscar-worthy, I Am Number Four falls perfectly between the failures and successes.
Don’t take me as naive – I Am Number Four is chock full of problems. The majority of the actors are bland, playing it too serious. The villains are more cartoonish than threatening. Instead of filling in the numerous gigantic plot-holes, time is wasted trying to establish a Twilight-esque love triangle. (If only Twilight would have been canceled after the first installment!). The character designs are ripped from other movies – the alien enemies look like the vampires from 30 Days of Night with the tattoos of the Romulans in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Several main characters experience an immediate change-of-heart without any apparent reason. I could go on all day with the list, but the difference between those failures and I Am Number Four is the fun that comes from a director (D.J. Caruso, Disturbia) who his audience and aims to please them.
John Smith (Alex Pettyfer, Beastly) – an alias, of course – is one of the last survivors of a distant planet plagued by genocide. When an evil race, known as Mogs, was on the brink of wiping out his John’s own race, nine powerful natives each sent a child to Earth with a caretaker. For as long as he can remember, John (a.k.a. Number Four) has been raised by his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant, TV’s Justified) – a smart, well-trained bodyguard concealing a few secrets for when John is prepared enough to handle them.
The Mogs have traveled all the way to Earth just to kill the special nine survivors. We never find out why – due to the bad adaptation – but the Mogs have a few rules they must follow: each survivor is somehow numbered and they must be killed in that numerical order. One, two and three have been all killed off, John is next. Each time one dies, the survivors experience a burning pain in the legs that turns into a light-emitting scar, tipping them off to the impending doom.
As high-school age John receives his third scar, this time accompanied by a vision of Number Three’s death, he and Henri quickly relocate to the small town of Paradise, Ohio to lie low. There, John experiences things he has never known before: love (with Glee‘s Dianna Agron), hatred (towards Percy Jackson‘s Jake Abel) and the ability to harness powers (like flashlight palms), known as “legacies,” genetically passed down to him by his parents. These three elements and the Mog threat lead Henri to teach John more about his powers and past than he previously knew, making I Am Number Four a sort of “origins” story.
The first two-thirds of the movie is set-up for the continuation of the series (even though the second book is not expected until later this year), the final act being where the majority of the action occurs. Even though the trailers make it look like Number 6 (Teresa Palmer, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) shows up early-on to help protect John, she literally doesn’t pop up until the last twenty minutes of the movie – but the damage she causes is well worth the wait.
Aside from Olyphant, every actor in I Am Number Four plays his or her part far too seriously. Pettyfer is to Robert Pattinson what Olyphant is to Michael Sheen in Eclipse. Pettyfer tries so hard to show emotion that he is incapable of expressing, while Olyphant has fun with bit he is given. Olyphant seems to be the only one having fun in I Am Number Four. Everyone else needs to lighten it up a little. Every single one of the prematurely ended film series I previously listed lack fun and are over-indulged in seriousness. Think back to the best kid adventure flick of all time – Goonies. Were the Fratelli’s serious in Goonies? Hell, no! They hammed it up. Which is exactly what I Am Number Four lacks. Thank heaven for Timothy Olyphant or I Am Number Four would be stagnant. (Note: there is a big difference between having fun “hamming it up” and being annoyingly cartoonish like the goomba Mog leader (Kevin Durand, LOST)).
If I was a teenage kid, I would be all about I Am Number Four. And although it is definitely one of those movies that I would look back on as an adult and realize how swiss-cheesy the plot is, I would completely dismiss it for the fun aspect. If you are a teenage kid or an adult with the capacity to do so, then I guarantee you will have fun with I Am Number Four.
Photo credit: Touchstone Pictures