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I Am Number Four (Frank's take)

01/03/2011. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy I Am Number Four in the USA - or Buy I Am Number Four in the UK

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The ambitious motivation behind the teen sci-fi thriller/love story I Am Number Four is its willingness to cater to the adolescence crowd and capitalise on the Twilight and Harry Potter craze. Unfortunately, it is also this movie’s inevitable downfall as well.

The premise involving a heartthrob alien teenage boy sent to Earth in an attempt to escape his eradication seems familiar enough for the aforementioned Twilight and Harry Potter enthusiasts to digest routinely. Still, I Am Number Four is notably transparent as it ventures into that been-there-done-that vibe so exhaustingly exploited by better and broader youth-centric sci-fi fables juggling whimsical adventure and teen-angst romanticism.

Director D.J. Caruso (“Eagle Eye”) serves up an uneven teen-angst sci-fi soap opera that occasionally mopes when it is trying to awkwardly echo the supernatural sentiments of an atmospheric sci-fi flick. The problem is that I Am Number Four has a generic and trivial-inducing scope that never elevates this mundane and mystical teenage tale beyond its conventional confines. The emotional impact feels curiously vacant and the movie’s so-called wondrous effects are arbitrarily displayed without any particular dosage of distinction.

In a cinematic universe where the welcomed visibility of teen vampires, teen werewolves and teen wizards proved to be the imaginative path to explore for youth-oriented creepy creativity I Am Number Four begs to add some leverage with justifying its pseudo-spirited take on teen aliens. Unfortunately, the slight treatment given Caruso’s clichéd-ridden caper about tapping into realms of magical “alien”-ation…both figuratively and literally…is about as dull as taking a spontaneous algebra exam from a deceptive math teacher.

Dreamy-looking and blonde-haired John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is a surviving resident from an extinguished planet called Lorien looking for a stable environment to exist peacefully. John is one of nine kid aliens roaming the Earth that need to evade capture from the devious enemy race known as the Mogadorians from his decimated planet. Apparently the mission for the Mogadorians is quite clear cut: they need to systematically eliminate John Smith (labeled Number 4) and his other remaining fugitive species. After all, these trained weird-looking intergalactic savages have disposed of the first three Lorien tykes which makes John…you guessed it…the fourth one to be hunted down before five-through-nine can be targeted. How interesting that the Mogadorians kill in chronological order?

Naturally John, along with his “adult handler” Henri (Timothy Oliphant), must wander from one venue in small town USA to the next in order to keep one step ahead of the malcontent Mogadorians as they lick their blood-slaughtering chops. Finally the travelling tandem settle in Paradise, Ohio, a cosy Midwestern haven where entertaining football games and apple pie are the prototypical slice-of-life expectations in casual cornfield Middle America. As John enrols there in high school the typical occurrences of teen life are experienced in making friends (in this case with a science geek played by Callan McAuliffe), avoiding peer pressure of student existence, dodging the riff raffish personalities and falling in love with the cutie that catches your eye.

Predictably, John clashes with an insufferable hotshot quarterback (Jake Abel) while making lovey-dovey connections with the roguish jock’s ex-girlfriend Sarah (Diana Agron). The heat draws near John as he is forced to confront the bullying gridiron athlete and handle the Mogadorian headhunters as he declares his love and devotion to the starry-eyed Sarah. Conveniently, John’s science nerd sidekick is resilient in combating alien forces. As for John Smith—his self-discovery comes at a crucial time when he notices the specialised telekinetic powers that he maintains…something that he was totally unaware of previously.

Thus, the movie launches into a frenzied final act where the obligatory good vs. evil showdown is presented complete with showy blue flash rays that ignite from John’s/Number 4’s hedonistic hand. Also, bodies are tossed about much like an angry chef preparing a salad for the busy dinner crowd. In addition, a butt-kicking beauty (Teresa Palmer) is on board to assist in battling the hideous Mogadorians.

The action-packed sequence is frivolously involving to a certain point but it could have revived the sluggish moments in the movie earlier had the opportunity been suggested to perk up the flaccid proceedings. Because Number Four flexes its flourishing fury excessively to visual jubilation one can understand the sensational stamp caused by producer Michael Bay, the mastermind behind surging popcorn cinema such as The Transformers movie series.

I Am Number Four is based on the Stephanie Meyer novels that promote a young adult flavored perspective…much like the heralded Harry Potter books that catapulted J.K. Rowling and her wizard-wielding bespectacled boy to world-wide notoriety (not to exclude the Twilight phenomenon as well). The anticipation in the Meyers-inspired literary creation becoming a full-fledged film franchise remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Number Four is geared to force feed us another sequel screaming volumes of teen tirades amongst alien nation indignation.

What’s next in store for teen-angst tendencies among the sci-fi surrealism? Perhaps maybe it is teen robots on a mission to scoop second-hand oil from diabolical middle-aged tycoons?

I Am Number Four (2011) DreamWorks Studios
1 hr. 50 mins.
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Diana Agron, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Durant, Teresa Palmer
Directed by: D.J. Caruso
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

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