Monday, February 28, 2011

"I Am Number Four" Review

"I Am Number Four" is Number Two. A cheap joke, but it's just what this adolescent stinker deserves. Granted, nigh unwatchable cinematic misfires haunt the calendar's early months, amongst whose company D.J. Caruso's latest foray into teen actioners is admittedly a god among insects. Copping a Michael Bay aesthetic (Bay produces), "Number Four" does "Twilight" by way of "Transformers." The film is slick, glossy, and absolutely uninteresting.

Never mind that these characters are extraterrestrials from the planet Lorien, it's their blatant lapses in logic that seems most alien. After all, the good guys are identical to human beings (the bad guys have facial gills) in all but one key way. Cue our hero's warrior guardian with this hilariously hokey line: "When we love, we love forever." And that's "Number Four" in a nutshell: bleating sentimentality in the guise of a hip sci-fi thriller.

The set-up is compelling enough. You have a persecuted alien race taking refuge on Earth, with nine bastions of hope for their civilization being systematically sought and destroyed by the evil (wince) Mogadorians. The movie opens with an effective prologue in which an ill-fated Number Three is chased down by his aggressors. But following that breezy and exciting sequence, the threat dissipates. Enter a gangly Alex Pettyfer as Number Four, Ohio-bound under the tutelage of his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant) and the brilliant alias, John Smith. Four has grown weary of his pull-up-stakes lifestyle and wants to settle into an average human existence; he, by choice mind you, wants to attend high school.

At just shy of two hours, the majority of "Number Four" has little to do with the role our hero will come to play in what studio executives are surely salivating to call the next big franchise. This lame origin story is as much about cookie cutter bullies and teen angst as it is intergalactic war. Probably even more so. Between romancing his love interest ("Glee's" Dianna Agron) and befriending a George McFly-esque dweeb, there are all the requisite puberty metaphors; at one point, Four's humiliating ability to shoot blue light from his palms prompts him to flee class for the comfort of a custodial closet.

It does, however, grant the audience time enough to reflect on how flimsy the premise is under any scrutiny. Why is this would-be savior staking his life on integration with human teenagers? Why anyone over the age of 16 should care if he has a girlfriend is equally mysterious. Bring on the alien bloodshed! We glimpse the (cringe) Mogadorians in pursuit of Four throughout the film, but that they pull stunts like scaring children in adjacent cars on the highway make them laughable villains. They eventually steward some middle of the road action for "Four's" finale.

Though the film is prettier than many mid-February releases, it ultimately earns its place among the calendar's infamous early months. Adapted from what, to all appearances, is a "me too" young adult fiction series, the big-screen version of "I Am Number Four" fails to distinguish itself in the company of "Harry Potter" and even the equally vapid "Twilight" saga. As little as I'd like to dwell on the latter, the characters are at least better realized. "Four" is populated by walking clich├ęs and led by one of the most emotionally vacant action heroes in recent memory. They are the dull cogs that turn reluctantly beneath a shimmering veneer. "I Am Number Four" is a faulty piece of cinema, and a piece of something less pleasant still.


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