Review: Tedious Characters and Dull Action in 'I Am Number Four'
by Jeremy Kirk
February 18, 2011
I Am Number Ugh. I Am Tedious. I Am Four Trainwrecks Piled On Top Of Each Other. Yep, all of these are suitable alternate titles for DreamWorks' new sci-fi movie I Am Number Four, given what director D.J. Caruso has provided us with. It is a tedious story told with all the accomplishment of a bad episode of a CW show. I take that back. Shows like Smallville and Supernatural are downright nuanced when compared to something like I Am Number Four, a film that doesn't even allow its more action-based moments to come off with any level of genuine energy. I Am Numb. There. That's another good one. I Am Done With That.
Played by Alex Pettyfer, Number Four is one of nine beings from another planet who have come to Earth to hide from the evil Modagorians. Along with his guardian, played by Timothy Olyphant, Number Four discovers the previous three have already been hunted down and killed by the evil race of aliens. He goes under the guise of an American high school student and awaits what he fears to be the worst once the baddies discover where he is.
I Am Number Four is co-written by Miles Millar & Alfred Gough, the creators of Smallville. This is a fact you can absolutely tell watching it. Number Four, under the pseudonym John Smith, gains Superman-esque powers, even has a Jimmy Olsen-style sidekick, and generally spends days at the school attempting to hide his identity from the bullies and teachers there. Unfortunately, the events in Smallville are more real-world orientated than what's found in I Am Number Four, and any amount of connection we the audience might have with any character here is trampled under the weight of plasticity and general weariness.
It's a weariness that comes from waiting for something to happen. We know the Mogadorians are out searching for Number Four. We even cut to them in there small caravan of vehicles tracking our protagonist down. However the film reaches an absolute zero on the suspense gauge. There is no intensity built at any time nor does it ever feel like the villains of the film are any kind of believable threat. This even comes after characters are killed off, after a fairly exciting opening chase scene where Number Three is killed.
It could have something to do with how one-dimensional the Mogadorians are. They wear black. They have tattooed and bald heads and sharp teeth. They speak in some gutteral language. They must be the villains, right? If that isn't convincing enough, we have Olyphant's guardian to keep reminding Number Four and us how dangerous they are. Of course, we never get that from the actual Mogadorians themselves. The villains in I Am Number Four aren't even characters enough to have names. Kevin Durand plays the Mogadorian Commander (actual name of the characters), and there are fleeting moments of levity with him. Other than that, they are all completely one-dimensional and serve little in their presumed foreboding.
What we are left with then are drawn-out scenes of Number Four trying to fit in. He finds love in a local high school girl played by Dianna Agron whose only purpose seems to be to get Number Four's image out to the world and provide one more connection to the human race. The film cuts to a mysterious woman played by Teresa Palmer who is seemingly tracking Number Four, as well, but she disappears for long stretches. You completely forget about her by the time she reappears, and by the time she actually comes into play in the film's story near the end, you've lost interest. Palmer does provide some of the cooler moments of actual kick-ass action during I Am Number Four's conclusion, a rather dim light when seen in the sea of monotonous darkness that is the rest of the film.
Of course, once the action in I Am Number Four does decide it wants to join the party, Caruso proves he's taken a few notes from producer Michael Bay's book. The action in this film is so jittery, so fixated on close-ups and medium shots, and so bereft in amicable lighting or framing you rarely have any idea what is going on. Surprisingly enough, the few times you really do get a good sense of choreography in the film's action come from two, giant, CG-created creatures battling it out. It's almost the reverse of Transformers where it was the ridiculously-designed CG monster battles you couldn't get a coherent grasp on.
We might care a little more for the characters and events that transpire in I Am Number Four if any of the cast gave us anything more than apparent line reading and surface-level reactions. Pettyfer seems to be pulling his acting styles from the school of Brandon Routh, that veteran of the arts. No one comes off as believable in the film, which could theoretically be played off as aliens trying to fit in with humans. If you can spin it that way and make the film more plausible, by all means go for it.
As with any film based on a series of books, I Am Number Four ends with an obvious promise of more adventures to come. If they are to ever get off the ground, perhaps the tedious character establishment and premise setup can give way for a little excitement. Perhaps the ensuing Mogadorians can be a little more dimensional than what we're given this time. Perhaps a follow-up to I Am Number Four will be far more nuanced and, likewise, entertaining than this first film. That way we can avoid such suitable titles as I Am Number Bored. Okay. Now I'm really done.
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 10