If you’ll recall, in the wake of the success of ‘Harry Potter’, a whole slew of movies came out that tried to ape that similar formula (all based on young adult or children’s book with an element of mysticism or magic). This has continued until very recently. Just last year, ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians‘ was released to a deafening amount of buzz but not much box office. Well, the ‘Twilight‘ series is a similar sensation, and guess what? In the next few years, we’re going to see a bunch of movies trying to crib that formula. It’s very similar to the ‘Harry Potter’ model, except that they’re solely young adult novels, so teen angst will always, always, always be front and center. ‘I Am Number Four’ is the first son-of-‘Twilight’ movie. And it’s not bad.
What’s frustrating is how much better ‘I Am Number Four’ could have, conceivably, been.
Instead of an angsty, glittery vampire, we are instead given a handsome, angsty alien (Alex Pettyfer), who arrives in a small Midwestern town after his alien-ness is spotted. You see, he’s Number Four, one of a handful of aliens who’ve escaped their dying world. They’re the last of their breed, and the same monstrous baddies (led by Kevin Durand from ‘Lost’) that destroyed their home world are now coming after them on Earth.
One of the problems with ‘I Am Number Four’ is that we’re asked to identify with the alien. In most big-budget science fiction movies, the audience has a character to identify with, as an entrance to that fantastical world. Luke Skywalker, Neo, Ellen Page in ‘Inception’ – these are all characters who aren’t initially blessed with any supernatural abilities, but they’re thrust into impossible situations and process those situations with the same wide-eyed wonderment that the audience experiences.
With ‘I Am Number Four’, we get lost in a jumble of clunky “mythology” (imparted largely by half-hearted narration). What makes this even weirder is that our hero is saddled with a mentor-type figure (played by genre stalwart Timothy Olyphant) who almost doggedly refuses to divulge any information. We could have had snappy dialogue and training montages. Instead, Olyphant kind of keeps to himself while Number Four goes to high school and woos a cutie from ‘Glee’ (Dianna Agron).
And so it goes. Our alien hero flirts with a sweetie from school while discovering his new-found alien abilities and evading the bad guys. It’s very typical, punctuated by on-the-nose romance montages set to pop songs, and seemingly “deep” conversations by two kids in the heat of adolescent romance. There’s not a whole lot new or inventive about the heart of the film. It pretty closely follows the story beats of things like ‘Twilight’, while indulging in too many tangential subplots that don’t really matter, sprinkled with splashes of uncomfortably visceral violence.
Things do pick up towards the third act. When alien Number Six (played by Australian hottie Teresa Palmer) shows up, the action intensifies dramatically. It’s at this point that director D.J. Caruso (of ‘Disturbia‘ and ‘Eagle Eye‘) really lets things get nuts, complete with space beasts that look like a hybridization of the ‘Cloverfield‘ monster and a flying squirrel, and widespread high school destruction. Ultimately, it’s too little too late. The film’s ending is kind of a shrug – not exactly a cliffhanger, but without enough resolution to make the movie (the first in a planned series) carry any emotional heft or narrative satisfaction. It might as well end with an ellipsis. That would at least be more honest.