Review 55: I Am Number Four (1.5/5)

I Am Number Four

Directed by D.J. Caruso

Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Teresa Palmer, Kevin Durand, Jake Abel

Released on February 18, 2011

Running time: 1h 49m

Rated PG-13

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Teen

Before I am placed on the receiving end of a barrage of hatred, I must clarify this: I have never read the book by Pittacus Lore – no, that’s a stupid name – James Frey, Jobie Hughes, and whoever else.

When this film came out, I was just finishing middle school. The overall message from friends of mine and general twaddle was that the movie I Am Number Four was actually pretty decent. But critics didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. I was not much of a film buff back then, so I was asking myself, Why?

Now that I have been reminded of this movie only recently, I decided to take a look at the movie and conclude whether or not my middle school’s student body or distinguished film critics were correct.

Now that I have watched it, I can conclude that the students at my middle school were idiots. But hey, kids are like that. We’re too naïve for our own good. (At least, emotionally. Now that two of my younger brothers have experienced middle school, the overall atmosphere is amazingly sexually charged, with juvenile wisecracks about sex and genitalia being typical discourse, overwhelming ejaculation of profanity, and students coming out as LGBTQAAIPandasilentF7$whoknows purely because it’s trendy and it’s the new ‘cool’ thing to do.)

Got a little sidetracked there. Sorry.

I Am Number Four begins…somewhere. We see two teenage guys sleeping on beds with mosquito nets surrounding them. One gets up, having heard something. He is pulled through the wall as the other guy gets up. The second guy starts running away, but is caught by some bizarre humanoid guys (we learn that they’re aliens) dressed like they’re Matrix cosplayers, who speak in some odd language as they murder him.

I couldn’t help but notice that in the opening scene, we were treated with a pounding, driving, very-Hans-Zimmer-esque orchestral score that is just below par with what is expected of a score of that genre. Unfortunately, whenever we’re not dealing with this subpar soundtrack, we’re dealing with abysmal songs from various artists.

Also, these evil aliens look way too human. They’re only differences are 1) They are much taller than a normal human. Actually, this remains inconsistent, as in most scenes, they stand roughly six feet tall, but in one scene, they stand about seven feet tall. 2) Those who aren’t bald have these buzzcut hairdos that are way too reminiscent of the Romulan head tattoos from 2009’s Star Trek. 3) They have odd gills on each side of their noses. What’s the point? They clearly breathe out of their noses! 4) They have short, yellow pointed teeth.

We then transition to a Florida beach, where we meet Daniel Jones (Pettyfer, who fails to hide his British accent). He is, apparently, pretty popular, and a scene he is in within thirty seconds of us first seeing him reveals why he was cast. He’s just a pretty face and a hot body that fangirls will gush over. But he pales in comparison to Taylor Lautner’s ice tray abs. But there’s also some scantily clad women for the pre/pubescent boys in the audience to ogle.

Pity. Pettyfer played Alex in Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, and will continue to destroy his career in Magic Mike. I know that people liked Magic Mike, but the idea of a group of male strippers and one of them teaching a nineteen-year-old the tricks of the trade is entirely reprehensible.

Daniel, now within a minute of us meeting him, is at a party on the beach, and shares a romantic moment with some chick in the ocean. But then, out of nowhere, some light starts blaring out of his leg, he sees a vision of the death of that teenager from the beginning, and, somehow, the depth of the water changes. First, they’re probably in five foot deep water as they make out. Then, as Daniel sees the vision, the water depth changes to about ten to fifteen feet. Then, as the light blasts out of Daniel’s leg, he rears up, and lies on his back in about less-than-six-inch-deep water. The chick and everyone else flee the party, thinking that Daniel is just some sort of freak. Also, there are two scars on his leg that are in the shape of the same symbol burned into his leg by the light. How has no one else noticed these scars before?

So, we have known this character for roughly a minute, and we have already seen him forced through a romantic moment and the revelation that he is not of this earth.

Daniel, and his protector Henri (Olyphant), have to move somewhere else as Daniel’s alien identity has been exposed. As they move to the fictional town of Typical American Suburb, USA, Daniel, whose new identity is John Smith (how generic can you get?), gives us a voiceover. He mentions that he is from the planet Lori (really?), and that he is on the run from the Mogadorians (who are they?). He also mentions a guy named Number Three. Short Circuit joke. He mentions his scars, which I’m just now realizing never faded, stretched, or shrank over his roughly seventeen years of life. He then mentioned that the teen he saw a vision of the death of was Number Three, and that he himself is Number Four, hence the movie’s title. John then mentions that he is one of nine of these aliens known as Loriens, and that they, for some obscure reason never explained, can only be killed in numerical order? So, are the others fundamentally invincible until the preceding one is killed? If they’re not, then what would happen if any of them ever died out of order? Also, these Mogadorians sound like the “cool” guys rather than the villains, and these Loriens sound like pussies, not protagonists.

Over the course of the move, John and Henri are followed by an obvious CGI lizard. Why? I don’t know. When the pair arrive at their new home, John comes across a beagle in the front yard. This beagle has no collar, so John adopts it, naming it Bernie Kosar after the football player. (I’m not a football buff, but was Bernie Kosar famous in 2011?)

We then see a roughly minute-long scene of a chick trashing her cabin and blowing it up. Her fireproofness indicates that she is also a Lorien. She is immediately passed off as an attempted action star purely out of desperation towards having a strong female character to appeal to today’s audience.

John goes to his new school the next day, after Henri says that he will call John every hour. That’s overbearing. He meets Sara Hart (Agron, a young Cameron Diaz lookalike), a blonde chick who John is immediately attracted to, and who seriously needs to put away her camera. She’s going to be our obvious love interest for the movie.

By the way, Sara is using a Nikon F, yet she never pauses to focus the camera before she shoots. Well, she’s dumb. Also, I’m pretty sure that the camera is intentionally being used as a quirk to make Sara as a character more identifiable, so they don’t need to develop her at all. This is evident by the end of the movie, as I still see her as a mostly blank slate, tabula rasa. Also, Sara uses her camera so much that she comes close to putting Max Cooperman from Never Back Down to shame.

Anyway, Sara escorts John to his locker, and, just after she leaves him, a big guy, along with his two thugs, walks up to John and introduces himself as Mark. Oh, hai, Mark. And he is played by Jake Abel. Yes. The young Kevin Bacon lookalike who played Luke in the Percy Jackson duology and Ian in The Host. Oh, goody. I was expecting Mark and his thugs to start bullying John for being the new kid, but it took the only-slightly-less-obvious route and had Mark and his thugs bully the nerdy kid, Sam (McAuliffe), and have John inadvertently come between them. At lunch, Mark throws a football in a perfect spiral almost too accurately at Sam’s head.

Oooh. Actually physically harming a student? You are toast…oh, wait, I forgot, this is Hollywood, in which case you can never be a “tattle-tale”. While bullying today is heavily discouraged, kids are told to not report it to the proper authority. Insert long spiel about how Common Core is a very nasty thing for our government to implement on our schools and our children. I may insert said spiel later when I am able to properly word it.

John throws the football back at Mark’s thug, knocking him to the ground. And then John helps Sam to his feet. How cliché. In Hollywood, bullies can of course dish it out, but can’t take it.

Of course our main character has to be the kind and caring social everyman – oh. I get it. John is supposed to be intentionally underdeveloped, so that any shy, nerdy, underconfident pre/pubescent boy can imagine himself in John’s shoes. This gimmick was executed on comic book superheroes such as Batman or Superman in their early days, so that children could easily imagine what it was like to actually be these characters. Unfortunately, what works in one realm may not work in another, and in film, this does not work. But apparently Stephanie Meyer didn’t get the memo, because that was what the character of Bella Swan embodied.

I’m really getting sidetracked today. Wow.

John looks through Sara’s school-sponsored website showing a series of photos from throughout the year. Oddly, even though this is John’s first day, Sara already has what looks like dozens of photos of John. That is so creepy. Also, when John was throwing the football at Mark’s thug, Sara was just getting her camera out, and doesn’t take photos of him until after he throws the ball. Yet the site contains photos of John throwing the ball. I must mention that for being essentially nomads, John and Henri have surprisingly advanced technology. Henri has three powerful computers, and John has an Apple laptop and an iPhone. I think it’s an iPhone 3. Wow, how ancient.

In the next scene, in which the Mogadorians pick up John and Henri’s scent, I realized how little the Mogadorians were actually onscreen. They were onscreen even less than Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or Vilos Cohaagen in the remake of Total Recall. And then I marveled at how no one is noticing these guys. They have the description I mentioned earlier. Their height, their hairdos, their gills, their teeth, dressing like they’re out of The Matrix, and they even drive a small convoy of three black cars and a black truck pulling a shaking, noisy black trailer with animalistic sounds emanating from it. Every bit of these guys shouts “EEEEEEEEEVIL”.

The second act begins as one day in class, John’s palms of his hands start glowing light blue, thanks to obvious CGI, and the same light beams out of John’s home’s grandfather clock. Why? The grandfather clock light is only seen this one time, so that bit was pointless. John’s hands glow brighter, and he runs out of the classroom and hides in the janitor’s closet, where he passes out and is somehow found by Henri, who takes him home. Henri addresses John’s powers as “legacies”. What?

Of course John has special powers. He is now amazingly strong, amazingly fast, amazingly agile, and the blue lights in his hands indicate that he is using telekinesis. Wow. Sigh. Insert obligatory and obvious “discovering and learning to use powers” sequence.

That night, John somehow tracks down Sara to some photography store (stalking?), and, after the two bump into each other, go for a walk, and see that Sam has a less-than-satisfactory home life, Sara invites John back to her place for dinner with her family. This scene with the family could have been a powerful moment, but thanks to this rushed story, this attempt fails. Later, after John leaves, we see Mark in the background in his car. Of course Sara had to be Mark’s ex, and of course Mark is willing to beat up anyone who comes near her.

During this past scene, Henri has called John more than three times, and John hasn’t picked up. Why isn’t Henri worried? He certainly didn’t seem worried when he picked up John from Sara’s place.

The result of a subplot involving Henri researching the disappearance of some guy culminates in him going to a factory and finding a blue geode. Also, the blonde chick has another blue geode. Okay. What was the point?

After another visit to Sara’s, John and Sara essentially hit it off and share their first kiss. At least it’s not as rushed as Romeo and Juliet.

The two go to some sort of fair and go on some “haunted house” hay ride. Immediately after they exit, they are attacked by Mark and his thugs, who John is easily able to dispatch. Sam sees this, confronts John, and convinces him to spill his guts.

The next morning, Henri and John are visited by the town sheriff, and of course the sheriff is Mark’s dad. The sheriff has heard about last night’s incident; John denies any involvement, and the sheriff leaves.

Just a nitpick: this sheriff, along with the entire police department of this Ohio city, do not dress in a black top and grey pants like they should. Also, the cars they drive are supposed to be all black.

It is about now that we learn that the short for Mogadorians is Mogs.

BARF: I’m a Mog! Half man, half dog! I’m my own best friend.

The third act begins as the Mogadorians arrive in town, and, with the help of two conspiracy theorists, kidnap Henri. John and Sam track him down and free him, but Henri is killed in the process, and he dies before transforming to grey smoke in John’s arms. Wait, what?

If only Pettyfer and Olyphant had acted better. If only the bond between Henri and John was expanded upon. This death scene could have been so much better.

The Mogs brutally murder the two conspiracy theorists, and John is framed. A police manhunt ensues. John makes it to some high school party, explains everything to Sara, and blasts his way out of a police barricade with her (way to reveal yourself) before he, Sara, and Sam take refuge in the high school of all places. The blonde chick who we’ve rarely seen throughout the movie shows up and introduces herself as Number Six (Palmer). Her alias is Jane Doe. Wow. And she fails miserably at covering up the fact that the actress playing her is either Australian and trying to hide her accent or American and desperately trying to fake an accent.

The Mogs show up at the school and unleash two very obviously CGI creatures on our heroes before attacking them themselves. It was now that I was reminded that Michael Bay produced this. Sigh. But hey, it looks like his CGI overload is missing from I Am Number Four. But that means that the action sequences suck miserably. While all of the special effects in the film resort to CGI, the film finds itself rarely needing special effects. Out in Sam’s truck, Bernie Kosar the beagle all of a sudden transforms into some large dog-like obvious CGI beast, destroying Sam’s truck in the process, and takes down one of the Mog creatures. John is faced with the other one and does not use his telekinesis to crush its head or stop its heart. Instead he throws it back, and he and Six make it out to the football field.

SIX: You’re good with your hands. (Take this line out of context.)

I also could not help but notice that all scenes with these Mog beasts in them are shot very dark, so that it’s harder to tell that the CGI is awful. I actually miss Michael Bay’s incredible Transformers effects. Most of those were achieved through animatronics.

The final fight with the last few Mogs takes place on the football field. The last Mog grunts are taken out quickly, though Six’s killing of the final Mog beast leaves her down for the count. So it’s John versus the Mog commander – or the Mog commander (Durand) just fires a grenade round and essentially renders John down for the count as well. The Mog commander walks over to John, grabs him by the throat and delivers a monologue as he slowly and dramatically draws his knife to execute John. But he takes just long enough for John to use his telekinesis to ignite a few of the grenade rounds on the Mog commander’s bandolier, and the Mog commander blows up. Six uses her fireproofness and shields John from the blast.

I wonder how the government is going to be able to spin, cover up, and censor this catastrophe.

And I must criticize this movie’s killing of its main antagonist. First, the Mog commander is in the background with the big gun firing grenade rounds that glow red (really?). Isn’t the big gun meant for the big tank-like Mog? Second, isn’t the Mog commander supposed to have the long, drawn out, overblown fistfight with John? Finally, what an idiotic way for the Mog commander to die. At least he doesn’t seem too blown up about it. At least he doesn’t explode in anger. Ho, ho. First, when John ignites the rounds, the Mog Commander lets out an angry yell. And then he just stands there, doing nothing but giving us a “Duh” expression, not even trying to remove the bandolier and throw it away. And then he blows up. Also, about ten of these little grenade rounds have the combined explosive power of a ballistic missile, and they blow up when exposed to too much concentrated heat. Isn’t that asking for trouble?

Anyway, John says goodbye to Sara, and leaves to find the other three Loriens with Six, Sam (why?), and Bernie Kosar. Six has some initial prejudice toward Sam, but I am seriously getting the vibe that that prejudice will fade in the future…and then some. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Sigh. By the way, they leave in Sam’s truck, which – continuity error – is somehow not damaged from Bernie Kosar’s transformation.

I spent the first and second acts gawking and laughing at the poor use of tired clichés, forgettable story, annoying script, dull acting, and subpar soundtrack. I then spent the third act marveling at how shallow and uninteresting the final product, especially the climax, actually was. It ultimately borrowed nearly every element from every young adult sci-fi fantasy of the past ten years, but has no idea how to correctly combine them. Overall, it wasn’t that bad, but it was ultimately uninteresting, forgettable, and glib. It was also barely worth a PG-13 rating.

Frankly, I’d much rather spend the movie learning what life was like on Lori, and what started the conflict between them and Mogador (?).

Finally, I must talk about Kevin Durand as the Mogadorian commander. He is clearly trying to bring thespianism to his small role in the movie, and is desperately attempting to juxtapose Andy Serkis as Gollum from Lord of the Rings, Vincent Price as Professor Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective, and Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. He so very much wants to be evil, but with his poorly written lines, terrible costume design, and “meh” acting results, he fails. It’s actually a little bit funny to watch. His performance almost fails on the level of Mike Myers from The Cat in the Hat.

I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Final verdict: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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