Published Feb 10, 2011Here's the latest offering from the studio game of franchise dangling. Like The Golden Compass and Cirque du Freak before it, I Am Number Four is a gamble for the voids left in hearts and wallets of fans post-Potter and Twilight. It's hard to say if it'll grab the cultural zeitgeist, but I Am Number Four is a fun, light sci-fi adventure. That is, as long as you're not easily frustrated by the convenient arrangements of clichés dressed up in otherworldly mythology standing in for a story with its own voice.
John (Alex Pettyfer, Alex Rider: Stormbreaker) isn't just an extraordinary teen, as the tagline states, he's an alien. You know, like Superman, except for the whole getting his powers from our yellow sun thing, 'cause that would be explaining – not one of I Am Number Four's strong suits. It couldn't be more obvious if they started the movie in space and zoomed down into the Earth, panning across a lush jungle and the debris trail of a crashed spaceship. Oh, wait, that's exactly how this starts. And you need an opening action sequence (shot so darkly that you can barely see what's going on – makes it more mysterious, right?) to set the stakes and introduce the threat before meeting our main characters.
John and eight other teenage Loriens are all that's left of a special breed of their species (essentially, they're alien superheroes), hiding out on Earth from the Mogadorians, a violent race hunting them down while trying to make our planet their next conquest. When one of alien teens (collectively called the Guarde) is killed, the rest are spontaneously branded with a circular symbol. John has to stay on the run with his guardian, a Lorien warrior named Henri (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood, The Crazies), whom he's dependent upon until his powers (called "legacies") manifest.
There's a lot of mythology to absorb, and that's partly why it takes so long for the serious action to ramp up. But mostly it's just another teen tale of love, friendship and being comfortable in your skin. Dianna Agron (Glee) plays John's love interest, Sarah, and Callan McAuliffe plays Sam, the bullied science geek – both convenient catalysts for the picture's non-alien confrontations.
Olyphant is predictably strong, delivering the film's only poignant moments, but such distinctly dull dialogue sounds bizarre coming out of a mouth so accustomed to eloquence. Our resident scene-stealer turns out to be Kevin Durand (Lost, Robin Hood) as the ecstatically malicious Mogadorian Commander. Once again, he's barely recognizable in mannerism, appearance and speech patterns, providing the only real sense of terror or humour in the film.
The action and special effects are largely impressive, more so in wider shots though – close combat is choppily edited and unclear. Don't get too excited about Australian hottie Teresa Palmer (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) either; she's barely in this. She kicks ass when she is, but her character won't pay off unless there's a sequel, which I confess, for all its predictability, I Am Number Four entertained me enough to want to see. (Walt Disney)