Not content with plumbing the depths of vampire fiction, Hollywood will leave no stone unturned in tapping the wallets of pre-teen punters. Based on the young adult science fiction novel by Pittacus Lore, the collective pen name of Jobie Hughes and James Frey (the controversial author “A Million Little Pieces”), I Am Number Four joins the likes of Twilight and The Vampire Diaries in making the transition from teen page to teen screen. Yet director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) has seen the writing on the wall for fanged emos of the night, and has turned to troubled aliens instead.
Nine youngsters are exiled from their home planet of Lorien to hide out on the planet Earth due to the invading Mogadorians. Given a number and a guardian, they must be protected until their latent superpowers (or ‘legacies’) are fully developed. When numbers One through Three are killed, the titular Number Four (Alex Pettyfer, Tormented) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant, The Crazies) pack up and move to small-town Paradise, Ohio. Disguised as a high-school student, Four soon develops a relationship with local girl-next-door Sarah Hart (Dianna Agron, Burlesque), which is complicated by his emerging powers. When he is found by the Mogadorians, Four decides enough is enough and makes a stand against the alien invaders.
If the description sounds familiar, it’s because it appears to come from the same generic space that Twilight inhabits. Taking virtually the same premise of an otherworldly creature hiding out in small town America, hunted by the bad versions of his kind, I Am Number Four does nothing to distinguish itself from the glut of similarly plotted films that substitute teen angst and hormonal imbalance for untapped super abilities. Just like Edward, Four glows at inopportune moments and has the habit of flipping over automobiles to save the woman he loves/has just met. However, it is not so much the lazy set-up that disappoints, but rather that it fails to exploit the rather exciting ad intriguing elements of that premise. Placing itself deliberately in that space between Twilight, and television’s Smallville and/or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the movie immediately sets itself up for unfavourable comparison. To carry the Buffy analogy a little further, it is more like something from the last three seasons of the show, as opposed to the sublime first three, making it a little bit average on all counts. There: successfully insulted Twilight, Joss Whedon and I Am Number Four fans in one paragraph. Commence the angry emails and Tweets.
Model-turned-actor Pettyfer has hung up the Burberry for a few years to concentrate on the acting, and while it would be cruel to say that he shouldn’t give up his day job, he should certainly keep the model agencies in his Blackberry for a few more years. It’s not entirely his fault that his character is fairly wooden and carved from familiar blocks, but it isn’t just the material that is limiting his range. Even Timothy Olyphant looks confused, and his presence should normally ensure a certain air of cool that even the obligatory alt.soundtrack (featuring The Xx, Beck, Jimmy Eat World, The Kings of Leon and The Black Keys) can never hope to achieve. Female characters, from Agron’s sweet country girl to Australia’s Teresa Palmer (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) as the leather-clad badass, ensure that the male demographic is well and truly catered for. Indeed, this is the goal of I Am Number Four: to be the kind of franchise that boys can enjoy with their partners while the girls spend their time deciding whether to marry Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner first. The title of the film is perhaps indicative of the mediocrity that it aims for, as given the number of flicks vying for tween attention, it falls far from the top slot.
The Reel Bits: A gag about number two would be too obvious, wouldn’t it? If this was the late 1980s, it would have been relegated to the VHS bargain bins, and despite some spectacular special effects, this never raises its profile to anything more than an average teen outing.
I Am Number Four is released on February 24, 2011 in Australia by Walt Disney Studios.