CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011)
By MICHAEL ARRUDA
(The Scene: A high school hallway. Students are bustling through the hall, some rushing to get to class, others lingering by their lockers, talking, horsing around. A handsome young man approaches his locker, looking forlorn. He is approached by a beautiful teenage girl. She speaks to him, but he continues to look inside his locker, as if he’s too upset to look at her.)
GIRL: When are you going to tell me the truth?
YOUNG MAN: I can’t. I wish I could.
GIRL: Can’t or won’t?
YOUNG MAN: Fine! I’ll tell you! I’m an alien from another planet! I have special powers that I’m still learning how to use, and my life is one big mess!
GIRL: I knew it! I knew you weren’t from this planet, Clarke!
YOUNG MAN (confused): Clarke? (He turns to face girl for first time. They’re both surprised to see each other.) Who are you?
GIRL: I’m Lana. I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else: Clarke Kent. His locker is right next to yours.
YOUNG MAN: No, I’m Number Four— er, I mean, John Smith.
(Camera pans away and finds MICHAEL ARRUDA walking through the hall. MA addresses the camera.)
MA: Yes, there are similarities between today’s movie, I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) and the TV series, SMALLVILLE, which is no surprise, since screenwriter Alfred Gough, who wrote the screenplay for this movie, also penned a bunch of SMALLVILLE episodes.
Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. L.L. is off tonight, so I’m doing this one solo, which means I won’t be fighting with him during this review, but not to worry, for those of you who tune in for that sort of thing, and you know who you are, you’re like the hockey fans who watch hockey for the fights and could care less about the final score— there’ll be plenty of fights in this one to go around.
(MA suddenly fights his way through a hostile crowd of high school teenagers making their way to class. MA is pushed backwards. He manages to escape through a door, and finds himself in the waiting area of the principal’s office.)
MA: Well, that’s not how we drew it up, but hey, here we are, as good a place as any to conduct this review of the new science fiction action thriller, I AM NUMBER FOUR, a film that is certainly science fiction, but there’s not a lot of action, and it’s not much of a thriller.
I AM NUMBER FOUR opens with a murder, as a teenager and his protector are killed by some evil aliens known as the Mogadorians. It’s not a particularly exciting sequence, and so the movie doesn’t get off to a rousing start.
The action switches to our young hero Number Four (Alex Pettyfer), living in sunny California, who, while swimming with a hot babe at the beach, has a bizarre experience where a scar on his leg glows as if it were touched by ET. This somehow tells him that Number 3 has been killed, and so it’s time for him, Number 4, to be on the move again.
He changes his name to John Smith, and he moves with his protector Henri (Tim Olyphant) to Ohio where they hope to lay low for a while, to keep hidden from the menacing Mogadorians. John explains in some silly voice-over narration that he’s an alien, that the Mogadorians are bad guys from his home planet, and that they’re hell bent on killing John and his alien buddies, who are all hiding on Earth.
What’s not explained to any degree of satisfaction is WHY the Mogadorians want to kill these teens. Something is said about the teens’ possessing the ability to destroy the Mogadorians, and since the Mogadorians don’t care too much for dying, I guess they figure they should kill off these teens. But are they immortal otherwise? In other words, if the Mogadorians succeed in killing all the alien teens, can’t they still die? This plot point doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and as a result, the story lacks a convincing reason for the Mogadorians’ actions.
Also not really explained is why the teens have to be killed in order. Why does Number 4 need to be eliminated after Number 3? Why can’t they go after Number 5 first? Does this mean that if the Mogadorians found Number 5 first, they wouldn’t kill him, because it was out of order? This doesn’t make much sense.
(A Mogadorian pokes his head through door, literally, breaking the glass window.)
MOGADORIAN: We like order!
MA: Me, too, but aren’t you carrying it to the point of ridiculousness? Are you telling me that if Number 7 walked through that door right now, you’d let him go, because you haven’t killed Number 4 yet?
MOGADORIAN: I don’t know. Let me think about that and get back to you.
MA: Here’s some advice. Tell your screenwriters to think about these things in advance!
(Door to principal’s office opens, and principal enters waiting area.)
PRINCIPAL: What’s going on here?
MA (points to MOGADORIAN): He broke your door. Kids today.
PRINCIPAL: Alright, Mogadorian, I’ve had enough out of you. In my office now! I’m calling your mom!
MOGADORIAN: Ah, man! Not my mom! (He stomps into principal’s office, and the door slams.)
MA: Alone at last. Back to I AM NUMBER FOUR.
In Ohio, Henri advises John to keep out of sight completely, but John just can’t stand being stuck in the house, so he goes ahead and enrolls at his local high school. John wants to go to school. If that doesn’t prove he’s an alien, I don’t know what does!
In school, John meets the lovely Sarah (Dianna Agron) and they soon have a thing going. She’s an amateur photographer – probably not the best friend to hang around with when you’re trying to lay low, but strangely this doesn’t become a problem. John also befriends the geeky Sam (Callan McAuliffe) who’s obsessed with aliens, since his father believed in aliens and later mysteriously disappeared. How convenient that these two characters should meet, especially when it’s discovered that the aliens Sam’s dad were researching were John and his buddies. What are the odds? I’d say they’re not very good. This plot point is anything but believable.
Sarah’s former boyfriend is the school quarterback turned bully Mark (Jake Abel). Mark is insanely jealous and sets his sights on tormenting John, which means before the Mogadorians show up, John gets to show off his newfound powers against Mark and his gang of bullies. John’s powers include the ability to jump through the air in oh-so-cool ways, and he can shoot bursts of energy through his hands like mini bolts of lightning. He’s also incredibly strong.
(Behind MA in the school hallway, strange flashing lights are seen through the broken glass in the door. There’s the sound of a commotion, with people screaming and fighting. MA peers into hallway. He catches a student by the arm.)
MA: What’s going on?
STUDENT: It’s the last day of school before winter vacation!
MA: It’s awfully early to be going home, isn’t it?
STUDENT: It’s a half day! We’re friggin out of this hell hole!
(MA looks down hallway to see a myriad of students jumping through the air in oh-so-cool ways.)
MA: It looks like an episode of GLEE. Okay, back to the movie.
Eventually, the Mogadorians show up to kill John, which comes as no surprise, since this is what the movie is about. It would have been better had they shown up earlier, so the movie could have moved on to stuff that was a surprise.
John’s protector Henri proves to be as helpful as an old lady.
(An old lady opens door.)
OLD LADY: I resent that remark! (She throws a book at MA which hits him in the head.)
MA: Ow! What did you do that for? There’s a whole hallway of students out there causing a ruckus. Don’t you have something better to do? How could you even hear me with all that noise out there?
OLD LADY: Now, you’re calling me deaf? (She throws another book at MA, then leaves.)
MA: This is a tough school.
Anyway, Henri proves useless as he is promptly disposed of by the Mogadorians, but not to worry, for help arrives in the form of Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) a hot motorcycle-riding babe who shows up just in time to team up with John, Sarah, and Sam to kick some Mogadorian butt.
I AM NUMBER FOUR is an entertaining but VERY light movie that would have been more effective had it been more hard hitting. The story of an alien teen pursued by evil aliens intent on killing him is compelling enough for a start, but as you would expect from a big budget Hollywood production, this story is not developed.
It takes forever for the baddies, the Mogadorians, to find John. In the meantime, we have to sit through a rather bland love story between John and Sarah, and while this story doesn’t come close to the excruciating boredom generated by the TWILIGHT movies, at times, it does come close. I mean, there are similarities: the high school setting, the teen angst, the lack of conflict for long periods of time.
Why not bring in the Mogadorians half way into this story? This way, we wouldn’t be so sure of what was going to happen. The way the story plays now, the battle happens at the end of the movie, and so it’s rather obvious to the audience what’s going to happen, obvious and not that exciting. Does anybody in the theater REALLY think that John and his pals are going to lose?
John’s guardian, Henri, is supposed to be a warrior, which is laughable, since he’s anything but. He gets caught and surprised so easily, John’s better off without him.
The Mogadorians, the main baddies in this movie, are genuinely creepy, and I liked them, but they’re not in this movie anywhere near enough. Plus, even though they are creepy, they’re not dark enough. They should be nightmare-inducing, but they’re not.
There are also some CGI created monsters which make their appearance late in the movie to take part in the final battle, and yeah, they’re pretty fake-looking. They’re not quite as bad as the awful CGI werewolves from the TWILIGHT movies, but they’re not much better, either.
I AM NUMBER FOUR is also dreadfully slow for most of its first half. Again, it doesn’t approach the boredom levels found in TWILIGHT, but it’s certainly missing some pacing early on. With all the talky scenes, this story may have worked better as a TV show than a theatrical movie.
The performances in this one are all pretty good. Alex Pettyfer as the lead, Number 4/alias John Smith, is likeable enough, although considering the kind of life he’s been leading, he doesn’t show a lot of angst at spending his life on the run. He says he’s sick of moving around, but he doesn’t seem all that upset. Imagine what a young Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio would have done with this role.
Tim Olyphant is good as Henri, though he’s nowhere near as memorable as he was in last year’s THE CRAZIES. The biggest problem is that the character he’s playing, Henri, is a disappointment. He’s supposed to be this warrior protector, but he’s all talk and no action. As soon as it comes time for him to do something, he fails miserably.
Dianna Agron from TV’s GLEE is very good as John’s love interest, Sarah, and hers was probably my favorite performance in the movie. Callan McAuliffe was also very good as Sam, the likeable geek. Jake Abel as Mark made for a believable bully.
Kevin Durand, who we saw as the angel Gabriel in last year’s LEGION, plays the Mogadorian Commander. Like the other Mogadorians in the movie, he’s creepy, but he doesn’t go far enough, nor is he in the movie enough. These villains could easily have been developed further.
Teresa Palmer rocks as Number 6, and she’s one of the more exciting characters in the movie. What’ s not to like about a hot alien biker babe? However, she too isn’t in this one enough.
Also on hand is Brian Howe in a brief comic scene, comic before it turns deadly as Howe’s character meets a grisly end, which, of course, happens off camera. Howe has a very long resume of appearances in both TV and movies, but I always remember him for his hilarious performance as Dr. Roger Fleming in the campy classic THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (2001). Hard to believe that one is 10 years old already!
I AM NUMBER FOUR was directed by D. J. Caruso, who also directed DISTURBIA (2007). Here, Caruso helms a slick flick, but unfortunately he does nothing to put his stamp on this movie. There’s nothing in this one to distinguish it from other movies of this type. There aren’t any scares, and though there are action scenes, mostly at the end, they’re certainly not memorable. They’re not anything you wouldn’t see on a TV show. I’m sorry, but a theatrical action movie should have action scenes that are more exciting and more visually thrilling than what you would see in a TV series.
Alfred Gough wrote the screenplay, and as I already noted he wrote the scripts for several SMALLVILLE episodes. There are similarities between I AM NUMBER FOUR and SMALLVILLE, including the main characters (both aliens with super powers) and the high school setting. Gough also wrote the screenplays for SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) and THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008). I liked SPIDER-MAN 2 but not THE MUMMY movie. This one falls somewhere in between those two films.
When the teens are talking to each other about real life teen stuff, like relationships and the like, the dialogue is good, but when the talk switches to aliens and John’s mission, the dialogue is forced and almost laughable at times.
The highly charged music score by Trevor Rabin is a good one and certainly helps this movie along.
I AM NUMBER FOUR has its share of weaknesses, yet it’s somehow likeable, I guess because it’s got likeable characters and a decent premise, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So, in spite of its flaws, it still manages to entertain. Watching I AM NUMBER FOUR is kinda like eating light ice cream. Not the real deal, but somehow still satisfying.
I give it two and a half knives.
All right, that about wraps things up here. Thanks for joining us. L.L. will be back next week as we review another new movie. I think I’ll just stop off at the restroom before I leave.
(MA enters restroom and finds that the stall is occupied. He waits, waits, and waits.)
MA: Hey, buddy, what are you doing in there? Reading WAR AND PEACE?
PERSON IN STALL: I live here. This is my home.
MA: What? What are you talking about?
PERSON IN STALL: I—- am Number 2.
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda