Directed by D.J. Caruso
When their planet is overrun by the murderous Mogadorian race, a group of nine alien children and their guardians hide out on Earth. But despite being scattered in remote locations and keeping a low profile, they are being hunted down and killed one by one. Three have been killed and Number Four is next.
Four, under the name of John Smith, and his guardian Henri go into hiding in Paradise, Ohio. Despite being on the run, John is desperate to live as normal a human life as possible. He enters school and soon runs afoul of the local jock Mark, befriends the school nerd Sam, and falls for the misfit girl Sarah. But as much as John would like to be human, his past finally catches up with him just as he begins exhibiting new alien powers. Tired of running, John decides to make a final stand. But who will survive when he does?
“I Am Number Four” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for language.
The strongest parts of this movie are the fight scenes. They’re pretty impressive. You get to see chases and brutal battles worthy of any Marvel superhero film. At times you may even feel like you’re watching “X-Men.” The last 20 minutes of the movie are pretty spectacular as we’re treated to cool martial arts, CGI monsters, and massive explosions (Michael Bay is a producer after all). That big finale makes what is otherwise a mediocre movie worth checking out.
“I Am Number Four” has a pretty good cast. Alex Pettyfer makes a solid lead as John. Put another 5 or 10 years on this guy and the British actor would make a pretty cool looking Captain America. But as it is, he handles both the action scenes and the romantic scenes well. Timothy Olyphant plays his Obi-Wan Kenobi as Henri. He doesn’t get to do much more than play the stern parent/guardian, but he does it well, especially when he’s forced to put John in his place. Teresa Palmer has minimal screentime as Number 6, but the little screentime she has is almost all action oriented and she leaves quite an impression.
On the negative side, I don’t think the commercials and trailers tell you just how much annoying teen angst there is in this movie. The first hour is nothing but the stereotypical high school experience. John is harassed by the jocks, he defends the nerd, and falls for Sarah. It’s nothing different from any other movie set in high school. Anybody that has actually lived through high school will be incredibly bored by it. Junior high and high schoolers will probably be a lot more tolerant. Fortunately the big finale makes up for suffering through all of this.
Besides featuring all of the high school clichés, “I Am Number Four” features a lot of movie clichés, too. We have a character coolly walking away from an explosion in the background (didn’t Will Ferrell say how bogus this was in “The Other Guys”?). We have a puppy limping around and looking pathetic to get an audience reaction (for once I want to see a movie actually kill a dog… besides “Old Yeller”). We have characters walking in slow motion through smoke. We also have scenes of young people playing around while the latest Top 40 tunes play in the background. It gets pretty cheesy and rips you out of the story.
And while this movie features aliens running around Earth, there are a number of improbable occurrences that seem downright stupid. For example, in the middle of being chased by the police and alien bounty hunters, what do Sarah and John do? They do what any rational human being would do… they go to the high school to develop romantic photographs. No, really. We also see one of the bad guys turn nice in the very last scene of the film, something that feels incredibly forced. There are other stupid plot moments, but you get the idea.
Like in “Percy Jackson” and “The Last Airbender,” “I Am Number Four” also assumes that there’s going to be a sequel. It leaves on a kind of cliffhanger and a lot of lingering questions remain. You don’t learn why John has powers. You don’t learn more about their planet to begin with. You don’t see Numbers 5, 7, 8, or 9. The movie only kicks into gear in the last 20 minutes or so, then it ends. They say you should always leave audiences wanting more, but you shouldn’t leave them unsatisfied either. I’d see another “I Am Number Four” movie, but whether that happens will depend on its box office. Who knows how that will turn out?
Finally, I’ll note that this movie is rated PG-13 pretty much for language alone. It seems like it was added to make it seem more ‘adult’ and appeal to older audiences, but if that was the case it was pretty ineffective. There’s way too much teen angst to make this appeal to the adult crowd. This movie is going to appeal most to people 15 and under, but due to the PG-13 rating they’re going to lose a lot of their 10 and under audience. Financially I think DreamWorks and Touchstone/Disney made a mistake either make it entirely appropriate for kids or entirely for adults. This middle ground doesn’t work.
“I Am Number Four” is entertaining and worth checking out for the action scenes alone. If you have teens or pre-teens they’ll probably get a real kick out of it. But if you didn’t like “Percy Jackson,” then you should skip this.