The sci-fi genre is a relatively new territory in teen films considering every book published in the genre tends to focus on vampires, werewolves or a combination of the two. I Am Number Four is a teen book with sci-fi elements that has finally seen the big screen at the hands of Disturbia helmer D.J. Caruso. While the movie is loads of fun in the last forty minutes, it takes over an hour of typical teenage angst and love to get there. Combine that with some plot holes and logic gaps surrounding the book and I Am Number Four fails to achieve anything better than “OK.”
John aka Number Four (Alex Pettyfer) is an orphaned alien sent to live on Earth after a group of evil invaders destroyed the planet. Living with his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John is constantly moving around to stay one step ahead of his enemy who are murdering others like him one by one. When Numbers One-Three are eliminated John knows he’s next on the list. When he falls in love with the beautiful Sarah (Dianna Agron) things change and John is willing to put his life on the line to keep her safe. With the help of another school outcast and the mysterious Number Six (Teresa Palmer), John will learn more about himself and what it takes to defeat his enemy.
I have to say I enjoyed the mythology and story surrounding I Am Number Four. A group of alien children who are being murdered by a mysterious enemy sounds loads of fun, and when Four and Six get together at the end to fight their adversaries once and for all it’s fantastic. The movie also has a very light and breezy script in the beginning with a lot of jokes, mostly coming from Olyphant’s character. The second half is where this movie really shines as Four and Six show off their amazing powers to defeat the Morgs, the enemy they’ve been trying to outrun. With Six’s abilities to withstand fire and disappear it’s reminiscent of The X-Men at times. The final showdown takes place in the local high school and with all the explosions not only is the football field decimated, but it makes you think you’ve been watching a really good Michael Bay film. In the end the second half is enough to make you forget the first half, almost.
It is this first half that’s really hard to get through. Having never read the book I can’t say how closely the movie follows but the first half plays out like Twilight with aliens. John is a brooding outsider who desperately tries to avoid people until he meets the shy photographer, Sarah. The plot moves from formulaic moment A to formulaic moment B with no deviation to the point where you know how everything is going to play out for over an hour. When the movie does switch back to John’s alien past and relationship with Henri there’s no discussion on the history of his planet or people who makes a lot of the power stuff seem confusing. Case in point, does John have any healing abilities? What’s up with the mysterious pendants all the aliens wear? These aren’t hindrances to the plot but you do ask these questions throughout because there’s no rules for them. Other questions you’ll ask are due to the really weak script which has a teenage party shoehorned into a chase scene and a romantic photo developing interlude happen RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of John’s big confrontation with the Morgs! Aside from that you’ll wonder why local Ohio sheriffs would assume a 17-year-old boy is a terrorist and how said cops end up walking into a teen party, with teens proudly holding cops of booze, and making no arrests. When Six shows up the movie becomes better by leaps and bounds but only enough to make you realize this movie really should have been called I Am Number Six because she’s an infinitely more interesting character than Four.
The cast tries to do what they can and some succeed while others don’t. Olyphant is always solid and here he brings a lot of heart and levity to a pretty cookie-cutter role. Palmer is fantastic as Six, kicking ass left and right but again you start to wish she was the star of this movie. Hopefully if there is a sequel (and the movie blatantly makes the assumption there will be) it will deal more with her. Pettyfer is definitely a good-looking guy but there’s little here to differentiate him from any other Robert Pattinson clone. His relationship with Agron’s character is so Twilight-esque you’ll think they copied the script word for word, and he doesn’t really get to show off any emotion. Agron is the weakest link as Sarah. Yes she’s sweet and confident but she’s no different from any other “girlfriend” character that you’ll see she has more to do on an episode of Glee than this.
I Am Number Four is in no way the worst movie I’ve seen, but it could have been so much better. If anything the last forty minutes are fantastic, just know you’ll have to slog through over an hours worth of cheesy teen romance and little back-story. The sequel might improve on some things, but if they keep trying to balance the teen aspect with the sci-fi in the same way as here, it’s going to end up as a disaster.