Angsty teen romance has been all the rage since the dawn of film, but in this modern day and age for a film to be truly interesting it isn’t enough to simply feature regular, everyday angsty teens. No, regular teens are so 1990s, now if you want your film to track your love torn, constantly moping teenagers need to be vampires or have super powers or, as is the case with I Am Number Four, be super powered aliens.
So does the upgrading of the teen drama by inserting aliens into the mix truly make for an interesting movie is Hollywood’s desperate attempts to find the next Twilight simply leading us down a road that can only end in a film about love crossed teenagers who happen to be rogue ninjas? It’s hard to get a clear answer to that question from I Am Number 4, but one thing is clear: alien superpowers make for some badass action.
I Am Number Four is about a teenage alien, John (Alex Pettyfer), who lives on earth in hiding after his home planet and all its people were killed. He and eight other alien youths charged with special powers were sent to earth to hide from the Mogadorians, who destroyed their home planet. John is protected by a guardian named Henri (Timothy Olyphant) who looks after him and tries to keep the Mogadorians from finding them. Unfortunately the protects of the others haven’t been doing such a great job and superpowered aliens 1 through 3 have already been killed. Now John, number four, is next. Henri takes the two of them to a small town after John’s cover is blown in Florida and there John falls in love with Sarah (Diana Agron).
Thus high school drama and alien wars become one and we get a movie that feels like it would be better suited as a CW television show than the kick-off to what Dreamworks quite obviously hopes will be a long term franchise (this despite the fact that the second book in the series that the film is based on hasn’t even been published yet). Much of what occurs in the film feels tailored suited for the smaller screen, and the screenplay is right there with it. Two teenagers declaring “all I think about is you” works on your weekly teen TV show, but once it’s blown up to the big screen it’s scoff worthy. For the majority of this film you’re assaulted with so many teen movie cliches that you would be forgiven for thinking it might be a parody.
However, not all of the movie feels like that show your girlfriend watches and you pretend not to like, but secretly know all of the characters names. After all the teen angst is taken care of and the school bullies are beaten up the actual bad guys show up and the film suddenly becomes 20 minutes superpowered action bliss. Once the aliens start using their powers and their giant guns the film actually becomes quite fun. There are actually some inspired action sequences using John’s alien abilities and, much to my surprise, some cool sequences that actually were original and well done. Director D.J. Caruso definitely has a flair for capturing action sequences, which far too few directors do.
These concluding moments of coolness do not save the rest of the movie from being anything more than exactly what you’d expect from a teenage coming of age story. This one just has more glowing hands and evil aliens. Speaking of which, the stink. I’m sure the filmmakers were just going off of the book’s description for this one, but these might be some of the least menacing aliens to hop onto the silver screen. Not only do they walk with a goofy gait the entire time, but they have gills on either side of their nose that instead of making them look scary make them look like literal fishes out of water. Most of their scenes are more comical than anything else until the end when their goofiness is overpowered by a blaze of superpowers and laser guns.
One does have to give some credit to the cast for taking what could have been an even more epically cliche screenplay and breathing some life into it. By the end of the movie you don’t completely hate the characters, which is a very good sign and you definitely wish there had been more of the action you just witnessed in the end of the film. It’s hard to treat I Am Number Four with anything but contempt since it is such an obvious cash-in and everything but the end would have worked just as well as a TV show, but thanks to that strong ending I wouldn’t actually mind seeing a sequel. The story is there, and with a bigger budget they could probably higher some screenwriters who weren’t simply copying pages out of every teen film that had come before.