I’m not entirely sure where this rash of films adapted from youth-oriented novels came from, but it’s been a mixed bag so far. For every Harry Potter, there’s a Golden Compass, for every Diary of a Wimpy Kid, there’s a City of Ember, and for every Chronicles of Narnia film there’s another, more lousy Chronicles of Narnia film. Although I read books sometimes, I needed Wikipedia to understand that this is supposed to be the starting point of a six book/film arc, but it’s hardly a great beginning at all. In fact, I Am Number Four is pretty lousy, like a Narnia film.
From the opening shots of the film, I felt a certain unease about it: the whole endeavor looked and felt cheap, like an upscaled Disney Channel show, which is agonizing since director DJ Caruso’s last film was the fatally flawed but gorgeous Eagle Eye. Anyway, we start out with a fast, undramatic pan from space to a hut in Africa where Number Three (of nine) is murdered by a squad of Mogadorians (it is awful to hear this name on screen) that look like Romulan rejects from the last Star Trek film. Elsewhere, John/Number Four (a wooden Alex Pettyfer) is totally having a gnarly party! and flipping jet skis! on the open ocean when his leg lights up, indicating his fellow Lorien (it is also awful to hear this name on screen) was capped and now he and his protector (Timothy Olyphant, who I can never seem to fall in love with in any of his movies) need to flee the scene and start a new life… again. They hole up in an abandoned house where The Olyphant keeps three laptops open at all times deleting John’s existence from the internet, insisting that he stay out of school for fear of y’know, the going-to-be-killed-by-Mogadorians nonsense.
But no! All of the interstellar chase/going-to-be-killed-by-Mogadorians nonsense disappears as the film shifts into ‘this is a high school drama and I’m the new kid’ mode. He falls for the photographer girl (creating more work for The Olyphant) and stands up for the nerdy kid – whose dad was abducted by aliens, of course – by showing the local bully who’s boss. Anyway, an hour passes before the Mogadorians pose a threat again, but by now Number Four is realizing the powers that alien puberty is giving him- namely his hands lighting up and his effortless ability to beat up a gaggle of bullies. Let’s hit up that unease again: this is a PG-13 film for young adults, which contains plenty of swearing and violence, but the plot unfolds as if written for six year olds. The Mogadorians are difficult to take seriously, speaking as though their cheeks are stuffed with cotton, leaving little tension in the film; the climax is satisfying in a ‘this is where the special effects were hiding the whole time’ way.
The whole venture feels like a half-cooked bait-and-switch: go watch this movie (and bring your friends!) and we swear to God that the next film is going to feature all the action and character development that this one didn’t have.
I ain’t buying it and neither should you.