There are a handful of films released a given year that share similar traits and remotely follow the same premise as I Am Number Four. It’s put together like a collage of various bits and pieces blatantly ripped off from other stories to create a movie everyone has witnessed already. A fair judgment would be putting the blame on the book I Am Number Four was based on but that’s too easy.
Instead the culprit responsible for making such a hacked attempt at originality is none other than the film’s director, D.J. Caruso. Once a promising director who helmed well-made films resembling The Salton Sea, and Disturbia; Caruso has gone way off course when it comes to sticking with a story and letting it flow naturally. Eagle Eye was a prime example of a director out of control and I Am Number Four is another addition to that superfluous category.
During its theatrical release, I Am Number Four didn’t connect with audiences as strongly as the novel version had originally done when it spent several straight weeks atop the New York Times Best Seller list. How closely the film retains to the book is up for debate, but there’s no question some of the written soul is diminished when it appears on the screen so thinly depicted. A young alien (Alex Pettyfer) from another planet is sent to Earth to hide from a race that has made his kind almost extinct. It’s here where he enlists in school to act normal by taking on the ever-so popular alias of John Smith, and defies bullies, befriends the misunderstood nerd, masters his powers and falls in love with a genuine hottie (Dianna Agron) . It’s like watching Superman mixed with Twilight, but without any authentic qualities.
While shamelessly derivative, at least I Am Number Four moves at a brisk pace, which makes it easy enough to watch on a boring Saturday afternoon. The first half of the film relies more on the narrative, explaining the mythology behind these aliens and how John harness’ the mutant-like powers he develops.
There is your typical teenage angst scenario’s thrown in for good measure, along with a father-son relationship between John and his Earth guardian (Timothy Olyphant) that’s never fully realized or explored. While nothing in I Am Number Four proves to be majorly offensive, most of it is rehashed of older material that doesn’t add up into a memorable experience. Caruso doesn’t focus on fleshing out one specific aspect of the film and instead fails to find stability. It’s hard to care about John and the trouble of him being the last of his kind, especially when his character development is reliant on his time at school trying to hide the fact that he is an alien with enormous power.
The real fun in I Am Number Four arrives in its final act, when the first major appearance of a fellow alien (Teresa Palmer), shows up wielding weapons and a fighting style that is incredibly exhilarating to watch. The last thirty minutes is wall-to-wall action, a mixture of effective CGI and stunts that breathes fresh air into the film.
Usually when a movie revolves on action sequences to tie the ending together in a fashionable knot, the result is exhausting and leads to an unrelenting sense of boredom. It’s the complete opposite with I Am Number Four, where the heavy exposition and streamlined beginning erupts into a heavily staged battle where the story begins to have fun with itself and generally makes a lot more sense: aliens fighting eachother. If there’s one thing Caruso can do well, its filiming an action scene and he does so here with exceptional skill. No quick-editing or busy camerawork, the sequence is pure adrenaline eerily similar to a light show. The problem with the climax is that once it finally kicks the film into gear, the ending arrives. It’s a shame too, because I Am Number Four starts to actually be involving, mostly due to the confident presence of Palmer.
The Blu-Ray looks and sounds the part, with bright colors being a particular highlight. The darker scenes however are way too dim to see anything; the opening sequence is an example of how blackness can obscure detail when it’s not levelled correctly. This does become annoying when it happens but it’s really the only major problem with the video. Otherwise, the picture still looks pretty crisp with strong visual effects and well refined textures.
The audio really isn’t noticeable until the action towards the climax, where laser rifles and explosions rock the screen. Rear speakers come alive here, enveloping you in the action. Dialogue is well prioritized, never taking a back seat to the action and ambiance is convincing the whole way through.
As far as extras go, I Am Number Four is as barebones as it gets, with only deleted scenes and bloopers to entertain those seeking more. The only fun feature is called “Becoming Number Six”, where it shows how Teresa Palmer prepared for her small but pivotal role. If this extra confirms anything, it’s that Palmer is thoroughly convincing as an alien badass who had a ton of fun filming this movie. That’s pretty much it.
I Am Number Four is not a bad movie, just an unnecessary one. It does little to stand out among the countless other films just like it. The acting is sub-par with only Olyphant and Palmer attempting anything beyond bland facial expressions. Caruso had the chance to inject the film with more humour and personality but instead decided to stick with a stock prescription.
The high school scenes suffer the most, relying on clichés to fill the void when more screen time could have been focused on secondary characters or even the film’s villains to create more menace and depth. Agron and Pettyfer are serviceable enough, but their chemistry is far from believable, dragging into melodrama at times. If it wasn’t for the outstanding climax, I Am Number Four would be a film you don’t want a sequel of, but if Caruso can iron out the kinks for part two and concentrate on having fun with the material he could finally have a legitimate hit.
I Am Number Four is cliched with its copy and pasted high school elements. It doesn't getting exciting until the end and borrows heavily from too many other films.