I Am Number Four
Directed by D.J. Caruso
In I Am Number Four, Michael Bay meets John Hughes and the end result bites.
There's this heart throb kid, ya see, who's actually a space alien hiding out on Earth. Let's get that kid Alex Pettyfer. He's grown up bunches since he made Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. This movie's gonna make him a star!
He and his guardian are being chased by aliens with whom they've been at war. They hide out in Paradise, Ohio. It's a tiny town, sorta like Twin Peaks, only not as creepy. But – do ya get it? He's in Paradise and he meets the love of his life, Sarah. I betcha we can get that cute girl from Glee, Dianna Agron. This movie's gonna make her a star!
Oh – but wait! It gets better!
There's this other hot chick in tight black leather. Is she good? Is she evil? She certainly can kick ass, either way! Teresa Palmer was so nice and sweet in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. This will make people think twice!
Throw in loads of CGI effects and ka-BAM, ka-POW! We've got ourselves a new franchise!
Whatever the pitch meeting was like, I Am Number Four hits the screen as a passionless, dopey sci-fi flick that squanders an extremely likable, very game young cast. More astoundingly, though, it's the end product of screenwriters Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Marti Noxon. Collectively, they've got titles like Spider-Man 2, Smallville, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to their credit and yet this botch up practically relegates them to hack status.
In fairness, they're working with source material written under the pen name of Pittacus Lore (as part of The Lorien Legacies), which is in reality Jobie Hughes and James Frey. The latter wouldn't know reality if it bit him in the buttocks; his other misdeeds include the notorious faux memoir A Million Little Pieces. That's the book that made even Oprah offer up a mea culpa.
And so it is the hyper reality of high school life – high drama, bullies, puppy love, teen angst – merges with ADD action and becomes, theoretically, perfect Michael Bay material. But it's not a good sign Bay opted for a producing role and left the directing chores to D.J. Caruso, who's enjoyed his biggest successes with Shia LaBeouf in Disturbia and Eagle Eye.
Whatever the logic of the source mythology, the good guys are numbered. John Smith (Pettyfer) is Number Four and Numbers One, Two, and Three have all been killed by the evil Mogadorians. As the sign in the spooky Paradise "Spring Scream" haunted hayride says, "Your number's up!"
On the lam, Four meets Six, who goes by the name Jane Doe (Palmer), and they attempt to open up some whoop ass on the ugly bad guys.
They're going by those generic aliases because, as Four's guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant, Live Free or Die Hard) so succinctly stated, they're not trying to be original, they're trying to be invisible.
Unfortunately, Four doesn't have it all together. He so confidently tells Henri he knows how to blend in, then in the very next scene is seen walking up to the high school with his hoody's hood pulled over his head. And he's the only kid with his hoody pulled up.
The sad thing is the scene wasn't supposed to be funny.
It's probably thinking too much to call out Four's darkroom interlude with Sarah. The guy's being chased by evil aliens, bullies, and the sheriff of Paradise, but he's got time to hole up in the high school and develop a roll of film he shot with his terrestrial gal pal's camera. What better time to reflect on the tranquility of Paradise and Four's artful soul?
A tender moment in the darkroom
A dark room, of course, is also the perfect location for Four to share the magic and wonder of his light-palms. Amid the luminescence, the genetically-imbedded self-defense system emits power surges very similar to Tony Stark's Iron Man outfit.
What should be a moment of Spielberg-like wonder (this is a DreamWorks production released by Disney, after all) hits the darkroom floor with a thud. There's something so wayward about the entire movie that nothing adds up to any real emotional energy.
All those misfires aside, hopefully one recurring message will stick with the youngest kids for whom this Scholastic-at-the-movies is intended: "Stay off the Internet!"
Amid all the real-world commotion over constant Facebooking, texting, sexting, and surfing, it is refreshing to see a story in which the guardian continuously scours the Internet for photographs – regardless of their incriminating or innocuous nature – and erases them. In this sci-fi flick, online photos are an easy way for the baddies to find their prey and track them down. At least within that plot point there's something worth thinking about.
• A truncated version was published at MovieHabit.com.