by Hugh Fisher
Right after seeing “I Am Number Four,” I wasn’t really sure what to make of the experience.
The effects are gorgeous. The characters are engaging, with a couple of notable exceptions.
And the story is a fresh take on the kind of tale we first saw in the golden age of comics, when Superman was struggling to save the Earth as the last survivor of the doomed planet Krypton.
“I Am Number Four” is a similar story of survival, of heroes hiding awesome powers and struggling to exist among everyday human beings.
What this movie gets right, it gets really right.
But when the plot goes off track, we don’t get Superman. We end up with “Smallville.” And not good, early “Smallville,” either. Weak, season-eight-and-later “Smallville.”
Here’s the story, as we hear it narrated by Number Four (Alex Pettyfer) himself:
The planet Lorien’s population was decimated by the Mogadorians, a brutal alien race. Only a handful of Loriens escaped – young heroes whose purpose was to protect their homeworld.
Now they live on Earth, but the Mogadorians are hunting them down one by one as a prelude to conquest.
Number Four is next in line, but he just wants to be an everyday, earthling high school student. It’s as if Superman knew he was meant to become Superman, but really just wanted to spend some more time as Clark Kent, a role in which he’s far more comfortable.
Kevin Durand plays the Mogadorian commander as if he’s channeling Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort. That is, if Voldemort had been an alien with gills next to his nostrils and way too many tattoos on his scalp.
Even this weirdness would be cooler if we saw more of the “Mogs,” as they’re called, than we get to see in the first hour.
We see, in agonizing detail, Number Four’s insistence that he go to high school under the name “John Smith.” We’re treated to endless predictable scenes of his average, angst-ridden high school days.
There’s the usual parade of Hollywood high school stereotypes, which is no less hackneyed and boring when it’s presented ironically.
Jake Abel plays Mark, the ubiquitous high school jock, who undergoes a baffling (if predictable) character transformation as the story unfolds. Instead of Jimmy Olsen for a sidekick, we get Sam (Callan McAuliffe), the school nerd whose father (can you believe it?) disappeared while searching for “ancient astronauts.”
And then there’s Sarah (Dianna Agron), Number Four’s would-be girlfriend – a friendly, creative soul who spends her free time taking photographs and scrapbooking.
Their time on the screen feels sweet and more natural than Number Four’s interactions with the other teens. It also feels like a love story that belongs in a different movie.
It’s as if the filmmakers only had enough action and adventure for an hour of screen time, so they threw in a scoop of “Elizabethtown” and a leftover can of “Donnie Darko” to stretch things out.
When the pace picks up again, we’re watching an almost entirely different movie. The aliens are attacking and Number Four has to team up with long-lost Number Six (Teresa Palmer) if humanity’s going to have a prayer.
Now, before you break out the unhappy e-mail, I’m aware that “I Am Number Four” is based on a young adult novel by author Pittacus Lore, speaking of unbelievable pseudonyms. And I know it’s supposed to be the first installment in a longer series, so I’m sure those who’ve read the novel will have a different impression of the characters.
From a storytelling perspective, I found myself wanting to see more of Henri (Timothy Olyphant), Number Four’s Lorien guardian who poses as a human dad. I wanted to learn more about the world of Lorien and its downfall.
Even if that meant adapting the book a bit more, helping our imaginations by filling in some visuals for things that are only referred to in passing, it would’ve been worth it.
As it stands, “I Am Number Four” is truly an imaginative take on a story that’s worth retelling. I’m just not sure that we’re going to see episode number two of this saga unless a lot of movie-watchers are thrilled to death by what this film has to offer.
Grade: 2/4 Stars