Who are you? Why, I am Number Four – or at least that’s what the title tells me. But I am not a number; I am a free man! No, wait – that’s THE PRISONER. This week’s topic of conversation on the newly re-christened Cinefantastique Spotlight Review Podcast is I AM NUMBER FOUR, the new teen-oriented science-fiction action flick from producer Michael Bay, distributed by DreamWorks. Why “Number Four,” you ask? Well, the film itself won’t tell you, so if you want to find out, you should listen in as guest commentator Andrea Lipinski (of the Chronic Rift) reveals all the details from the source novel that the screenplay not-so-cleverly left out. Also chiming in our CFQ podcast regulars Dan Persons (who remarks on the film’s debt to SMALLVILLE and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, by way of screenwriters Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and Marti Noxon) and Steve Biodrowski (who reveals that even the most disappointing films can be redeemed by cute animals such as lizards and dogs).
While there is no rule in Hollywood explicitly stating that screenwriters should avoid ripping off characters as legendary as Superman, the makers of Dreamworks’s I AM NUMBER FOUR should have at least been warned. Ironically coming from SMALLVILLE creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, I AM NUMBER FOUR employs all the usual tricks for developing a sci-fi franchise, without bothering to leave behind an original piece of work.
I AM NUMBER FOUR stars relative newcomer Alex Pettyfer (whose tweeny-sounding BEASTLY was held back from release last year) as the eponymous Number Four, one of a group of nine infant aliens sent to Earth to avoid being annihilated by the evil Mogadorians. Isn’t that a scary name for the villains? As the movie opens, the nine infants have either (a) grown to become high school age or (b) been murdered at the hands of the main bad guy, cleverly identified in the end credits and IMDB as “Mogadorian Commander” (Kevin Durand). It’s a very lucky plot device that allows the other Numbers to know automatically that their counterparts are dead; with the death of Number Three, Number Four is moved to Paradise, Ohio so he can be kept safe. We know this sucks because, like, there’s rain and bullies and stuff when he gets there.
I cannot provide expert commentary on the citizens of scenic Paradise, but I can say that they must have a lot of designer clothing outlets and outrageous real estate prices. As Number Four hides from the Mogadorians under the anonymous-sounding name of “John Smith”, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (the artist behind 2006’s PAN’S LABYRINTH) takes us on a tour of a “miserable” town that includes natural waterfalls, a flowing river, bright sunlight, and of course, beautiful characters. One in particular catches John’s eye – the hipster-esque Sarah (Dianna Agron of GLEE) – because she enjoys taking photographs of people who don’t know she’s doing it.
Since when was this quality so attractive that it inspired complete the stupidity that John displays? Then again, John is not just “anybody”, but herein lies one of the lamest, most nonsensical plot developments in recent history. Number Four is meant to be keeping a low profile, staying indoors at all possible moments, and especially not talking to anyone with a camera and USB plug. No matter how much chemistry Pettyfer and Agron appear to have – and luckily for the film, there is undeniably some – there is no reasonable explanation for why these two people should be together. Consider this my objection for any and all future extraterrestrial weddings.
Director D.J. Caruso knows the film’s faults, however, and he encourages his actors to give every cliché and line of dialogue their best efforts. Durand, as the ridiculous-looking Mogadorian leader, has perfected the art of being scary; to date, I’ve seen him play a bounty hunter, an assassin, a military commander, and now, a Voldemort look-alike. Here, he allows every threat to seem like he’s spitting it out through his sharp teeth and begging for someone to hit him in the face. Pettyfer, new to me but apparently one of Hollywood’s new hot properties, has a chance to sculpt a career from this film. He’s given some terrible lines like, “I don’t want to be a prisoner” and “All I think about is you,” but I prefer his version of tortured non-human teen to that of, say, Robert Pattinson. Similarly, Agron’s character doesn’t have much to say, but when she says it, there is an oozing of sweetness.
Unfortunately, I AM NUMBER FOUR makes the mistake of employing the spectacular Timothy Olyphant as Number Four’s guardian, Henri, and giving him absolutely nothing to do. Olyphant is a good actor, one with two hit television leads under his belt and a sense of comic timing that makes the first half of the film tolerable. Nonetheless, it is an intolerable character he plays. Henri’s entire life is apparently based on protecting Number Four, transporting him, feeding him, and paying for all his human clothes, but if he had succeeded in any way, the film could not have been. If I was assigned to be the only bodyguard for someone whose legacy was to perpetuate a race of royal, beautiful, powerful creatures for future sequels, I would probably have other methods of monitoring my precious charge than with my iPhone.