Director: D. J Caruso
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, Teresa Palmer, Callan McAuliffe
Plot: Number Four (Pettyfer) is the fourth of seven alien warriors hiding on Earth until they are strong enough to fight back against an alien race. Then Four learns his three predecessors have been assassinated…
There is something very off-putting about Young Adult movies. For some reason, they never look like they are up to much. Perhaps it is simply the marketing side of things. Hoping to attract the teenager/tweens market, the lead characters are often revamped Nicholas Sparks stars, built up to handle some action. Divergent’s Shailene Woodley, The 5th Wave’s Chloe Grace-Moretz, here, we get Alex Pettyfer, smouldering his way through a two hour screenplay. It just suggests that the whole affair is going to be a little vapid and shallow. However, quite often, not always but often enough to disprove our reservations, these movies surprise the viewer. The Hunger Games started as a sister series to Twilight, but evolved into a politically complex character study. The trick is to ignore your gut and give these films a chance.
I Am Number Four lands directly in the middle of the pack. Yes, it is much better than you think it is going to be. Right from the off, it suggests it is going to more interesting than the dreamy cover stars made it out to be. Alex Pettyfer is on the run from some appropriately nasty aliens (a cross between Abrams Romulans and Hellraiser’s Pinhead), and dreams of the day when he gets to stop running. While the direction is focused mainly on Pettyfer’s plight, we get enough clues that things are always moments from getting quite interesting. A loveable dog isn’t quite as innocent as it seems, a thrilling opening sequence foreshadows a potentially fun finale… I Am Number Four pushes away the doubts early, so the audience resets their opinions of this film and settles into a viewing, back on square one. Sadly, we are then treated to an hour that almost reaffirms our fears. Alex Pettyfer’s hero accidentally gets trapped in another Spiderman reboot, trying to have a crack at high school life, while wrestling with super-powers that are refusing to stay dormant. We have done the whole ‘metahuman trying to relax in school’ genre before. Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer… as a result, this side of the movie feels like it is only ever touching base. There is a cute girl, determined not to be a vapid cool kid despite looking like a model. There’s the nerd who is getting picked on by the mandatory bully character. Alex Pettyfer’s character bounces from purposefully distant to embracing the possibility of love and normality. It is an understandable piece of character development for Pettyfer’s tormented character, but because we have seen it so much before, we know how this story is going to end up. When the movie slows down to appeal to the teenage girl fan-base that just want to see Pettyfer and Agron make forlorn eyes at each other (there is a cornball plot development where Pettyfer’s alien race can only ever fall in love once), everyone else gets frustrated. In fairness to the two leads, we do want them to end up with each other and it says something for Agron’s performance that when the far more interesting Teresa Palmer shows up, we don’t want Pettyfer’s romance angle to jump ship.
And when Teresa Palmer does show up, as another alien in hiding, I Am Number Four turns into a different movie completely. The aliens finally catch up with Pettyfer and launch an assault on him and Olyphant’s appropriately grumpy guardian. We then get an action movie in hiding. After an hour of watching Pettyfer struggle with the politics of dating, no one was expecting such a turn in tone. There are explosions, heroes learning new superpowers on the fly and some decent set-pieces. A punch-up with a giant creature could have come across as a CGI mess, but Pettyfer’s timing sells it, making him an action star to watch. In many ways, this is the perfect date movie. Treat the girlfriend to an hour of romance and there are some nice punch-ups waiting on the other side for you. Hopefully, it isn’t too late in the day for I Am Number Four to get the green-light to start franchise building. Plans for the sequel currently amount to D.J Caruso keeping his fingers crossed. It is easy to see why it slipped under the radar. Even the action late in the day feels held back by its lack of development. There is no time to develop Olyphant or Palmer, so their only job is to stand around and look vaguely awesome while blowing stuff up. There is something decent hiding here, but this is where the pitfalls of the Young Adult genre play up: no one is willing to give this movie a chance.
Final Verdict: Too hung up on appealing to the teenage girl audience, so its awesome final act might not be enough to save the day.