Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: D J Caruso
Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Teresa Palmer, Timothy Olyphant, Jake Abel, Callan McAulliffe, Diana Agron.
With the incredibly successful Harry Potter and Twilight franchises reaching their conclusion, filmmakers are obviously on the hunt for the next big thing in teen fiction to kick start another lucrative and long running series. But with both the recent Percy Jackson and Alex Ryder series failing to attract large audiences, high hopes rest with I Am Number Four. The film basically shares a number of broad thematic similarities with those other two immensely popular franchises, albeit replacing vampires and wizards with extra-terrestrials.
I Am Number Four is based on the best selling blend of teen fiction and sci-fi adventure written by disgraced author James Frey and Jobie Hughes under the pseudonym of Pittacus Lore. The script has been written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, dab hands at this kind of thing, who have written numerous episodes for Smallville as well as big budget films like Spiderman 2 and Shanghai Noon, etc.
There are a number of obvious Superman parallels to the back-story of I Am Number Four. John Smith (Played by Alex Pettyfer, from Stormbreaker, etc) seems like a normal teen on the surface. He has issues regarding his over protective father figure Henri (Timothy Olyphant), and has trouble fitting in at his new school, especially when he locks horns with the head bully, a football jock (played by Jake Abel).
But he also has a secret that sets him apart from his peers. John is actually an alien from the planet Lorien, one of nine “gifted” children who were sent to Earth to escape the marauding Mogodorians, a fierce warrior race intent on eliminating everyone from the planet. Although they are meant to keep a low profile, the Mogodorians have discovered their presence and come to Earth intent on killing them all. The Mogodorians appear menacing, what with their tattooed heads, their black trench coats, their sharp, pointy teeth and their huge weapons.
Because the Lorien children are protected by a special charm, the Mogodorians can only kill them in ascending order. John is number four on the hit list. At the same time, John is also struggling to harness his latent special powers, which include telekinesis and strange lights that glow from his hands.
In his fight to survive though, John finds help from unexpected quarters. Sam (played by Australian actor Callan McAulliffe) is a nerd with an interest in space, aliens and UFO conspiracies, which makes him the target for bullies at school. Sarah (Dianna Agron, from hit tv series Glee, etc) is a photographer who also seems a bit of a social misfit and provides the love interest for John. And then there is Australian actress Teresa Palmer (from the recent The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, etc), who plays Number Six, a fierce Lorien warrior who comes along to help kick Mogodorian arse.
Despite its science fiction overtones, I Am Number Four also deals with many of the usual themes and adolescent angst familiar to teen-oriented movies. The director is D J Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye, etc), who is familiar with this territory of troubled teen protagonists battling evil forces. I Am Number Four is far more special effects driven than his previous efforts, but he choreographs the action sequences efficiently enough, and the climactic showdown, which destroys the local high school, is effectively done.
But the pyrotechnics and CGI-laden action cannot completely disguise the succession of cliches, the embarrassingly wooden dialogue, and the many holes in the plot. The film features an attractive young cast that includes rising young star Pettyfer, who has a brooding presence, and he appears far too surly and one-dimensional to be a superhero with broad appeal. Palmer brings some much needed energy and attitude to proceedings, while Olyphant (replacing District 9’s Sharlto Copley) lends a touch of sly humour to his performance.
I Am Number Four has been co-produced by Michael Bay, who loves this kind of big, dumb, spectacular action and fantasy, and Steven Spielberg, and sets the scene for future instalments. This is the first in a proposed six part series, and as such there remain a few unanswered questions as our heroes ride off into the proverbial sunset. However, if the producers wish for this series to continue, they had better hope for a marked improvement in quality for the next instalment.