I Am Number Four
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I Am Number Four

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One of the most versatile types of film possible is science fiction. It can stand alone providing a journey through time and space to radically different worlds or be used as the basis for a variation of another well established genre. One such cross over stories is demonstrated in the recent Sci-Fi flick, ‘I Am Number Four’. Right up front it should be stated that the film failed to live up to its hype. It was promoted as a fast paced action movie but it was built on a flimsy foundation. The underlying genre here is the man on the run escaping from underserved misfortune. It’s a familiar tale well rooted in classical literature extending back to Biblical times with a redefinition in 1862 with the publication of the French masterpiece, ‘Les Misérables’. In this instance the figure on the run is an alien. He is not from the bug eyed monster planets we accustomed to over the years but from an extraterrestrial world predominately by exceptionally attractive people. Instead of chasing down each other as depicted in this movie they could have easily conquered our planet by taking control of the fashion industry. The film has untapped potential and could have been better if more attention had been placed on solidifying the premise and perhaps a few actors further along in the development of their craft. The movie starts out well but quickly drifts off course unable to regain the lost momentum. The potential saving aspect of the flick is how it manages to fit into the always popular young people with super human abilities. As a Disney production it is age appropriate for the teen set and connects to its demographic through the almost universal fantasy of having strange and special powers. This same set of attributes also appeals to the adults who might be present broadening out the audience but in some ways diluting the impact of the story. At least this is a high school movie that doesn’t depend on sex, drugs and violence or, at the other end of the spectrum, filled with song and dance numbers. It might not be a well constructed film but it is serviceable as a Saturday afternoon popcorn flick or something to pull out for family movie night.

John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) may outwardly appear to be a regular young man but he is actually a strange visitor from anther star, the planet Lorien to be exact. They may have achieved the advanced technology required to make interplanetary travel possible but their comprehension of human naming conventions is rather limited since the best they could come up with is John Smith. Back on his own world his race has been invaded by the evil Mogadorians lead here by their Commander (Kevin Durand). Smith is under the protection of a guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant) who exhibits a nice collection of super powers including the popular standards such as speed, strength, telekinesis and nifty light emanating from his hands. Nine infants were brought to Earth from Lorien but for a plot device convenient reason they can only be killed in numeric order. They do make a stab at an explanation for this ordinal execution but don’t try to think too much about it. As it turns out and to justify the title of the movie John was been issued ‘Number Four’. After moving to Ohio John makes some new friends including conspiracy theory fanatic, Sam Goode (Callan McAuliffe) and photographer hopeful, Sarah Hart (Dianna Agron). As with every pretty Blonde girl in movies like this Sarah has a Neanderthal ex boyfriend, jock and school bully, Mark James (Jake Abel). In a completely predicable plot device Mark’s dad is also the town sheriff. When Number Three is killed Henri knows that John’s number is literally up and goes on the defensive. Not wanting to wait here turn Number Six (Teresa Palmer), decides offense is the best defense and starts hunting the Mogadorians assassins, a prudent move after her guardian is taken out. The denouement pulls in the ever popular alien favorite a shape shifter which drives the conclusion to a pat ending you can see coming for most of the film.

If a lot of this sounds familiar it does have a close resemblance to the science fiction television soap opera, ‘Roswell’ right down to hiding from the evil forces that destroyed the home world, special powers and an adult protector. The screenplay was written by a team with suitable experience; Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. They were a significant part of bringing ‘Smallville’ to television and provided the basic story line for the second ‘Spider-Man’. With this behind them I have to say I expected a touch more originality present in this production. Still, with that criticism out of the way there are some positive points to be found here. The cast is attractive and has lead male and female lead designed to bring in the fans. Alex Pettyfer is a ruggedly handsome newcomer to the action arena. Opposite him is Dianna Agron, the blonde singing cheerleader from the mega hit show on Fox, ‘Glee’. It is good that she is expanding her presence in the industry with something completely different from her musical roots. Agron sings better than she can act at this point but this is early enough in her career that she is just finding her acting style. This was a bit of stunt casting but I’m reasonably certain the next film she gets will give her something more substantial. Also still on a learning curve here is the director, D.J. Caruso. He has several notable movies to his credit already establishing him as a director to watch especially in the difficult thriller genre. He has to smooth out the pacing a touch to circumvent a few scenes that have the tendency to drag, other than that de deports himself well for this film. Overall this is a solid popcorn flick so enjoy.

Posted 05/14/11

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