I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four

Film review by: Witney Seibold

Why do most teenagers in movies looks like they’re in their late 20s or early 30s? This is a phenomenon stretching back to the glory days when people like James Dean were cast as teens. Even when the actors hired are actually teenagers, they look like undergrown adults. Even worse than their looking like adults is their childish behavior. The teenagers in movies are rarely witty or intelligent. Heck, they’re rarely vapid and juvenile they way real teenagers are. They are often, clearly, shallow ciphers for the the intended teen audience to latch onto; they operate only within very narrow character parameters, and never react to extraordinary situations with a modicum of reality.


Case in point is D.J. Caruso‘s “IAm Number Four,” a film about teenagers from outer space, and the moody human friends they try to make mere minutes before the shallow action extravaganza begins (the film was produced by action schlockmeister Michael Bay, which should give you a good idea as to where we’re coming from). To be perfectly fair, some of the teenager are actually likeable (I liked the cynical outcast character played by Callan McAuliffe), and actually look like teenagers, and to be fair to the shallow action extravaganza, there are some pretty neato things in it (I was fond of the bat monster fighting the bulldog monster in the gymnasium showers, as well as the hot Aussie model Teresa Palmer spinning sideways through the air while laser fire scorched past her in slow motion). But in terms of an actual teen drama, the only thing Am Number Fourhas going for it is the patience to save its action for the end, where it should be most satisfyingly placed.


Alex Pettyfer plays John, and he is incredibly handsome in that bland sort of way. He falls into the same camp as someone like Channing Tatum or Casper Van Dien; not necessarily a great performer, but a crackerjack at looking handsome and moody, stirring the icy hearts of lovelorn teenage girls. That he is being compared to Robert Pattinson from “Twilight” is probably no coincidence. I understand that teenage girls do have these achingly romantic fantasies about attaining the vaguely dangerous, dashingly handsome, poetry-minded and inexplicably chaste loner boy (making the girl into the sexual conqueror in this fantasy), but do we have to keep indulging them with movies like “Twilight” and “I Am Number Four” and “The Lovely Bones?” And “Beastly” for that matter?


John is a teenager from another planet, called Lorien. He and eight others, all conveniently numbered, have been hiding out on Earth from a wicked species called the Mogadorians, who would kill all aliens on Earth before killing all the humans and taking over. The Mogadorians dress like bouncers at a metal concert, and have sharpened teeth, scalp tattoos, and facial gills. They also have a bat monster. They have killed three of the Lorien kids (they are proceeding in numerical order), and John is number four. It seems to me that they could easily overpower a lot of Earthlings without having to kill Lorien teenagers, but never mind. Our story is about the moody, broody John.


John is moody and broody. He’s not allowed to make friends, as he must remain constantly on the move the evade the bad guys. He is carted about by his very tolerant bodyguard (Timothy Olyphant, looking slimy-cum-dashing with a graying ponytail), who spends his days surfing the ‘net, looking for pictures of John to erase. Evidently, this is the best way to track down an alien; by cyber-stalking them. John’s biggest issues seem to be his solitude, and he insists on going to ordinary high schools. I say that if you’re an alien hiding out on Earth, and you look like Alex Pettyfer, there are better things to be doing than going to high schools and making eyes at the ex-cheerleaders. But go to high school he does, as a new student, in a new town.

Oh yes, the love interest in the story is represented by Sarah (Dianna Agron), who looks like she’s 12 (even though she’s 25), and who plays a sensitive soul with a camera, even though she doesn’t seem to have enough character to be an outsider artist girl. They have a chaste romance, much to the chagrin of Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. From there, most of the film’s drama stems from John’s inability to reveal his true identity to a small group of kids he’s growing fond of. For a film about space aliens, I appreciate its restraint in this regard.

Eventually John also discovers he is growing Superman-like superpowers. He and run and jump great distances, and he can shoot beams of light from his palms. While the film is kind of vague about the nature of his powers, it does give the idea that he will grow more as the film progresses. It’s also a handy setup for a sequel when he’ll inevitably learn to do more wicked stuff with the aid of the newly appeared Number 6 (Palmer).

You know, for all the slagging I’ve done on this movie, though, I think it’s still perfectly entertaining. The mayhem is kept to a minimum, and while the teenage drama may not be entirely convincing, it’s still better-done than a lot of teen movies that are spilling into theaters on a “Twilight”-inspired, unabated tide of studio greed. The bully (Jake Abel) even manages to come across as kind of human. In a weird way, that’s no small feat.


“I Am Number Four” was based on a novel by something named Pittacus Lore, which is the nom de plume of a team of writers led by James Frey. The books, from what I understand, are a complex mythology of aliens and plot contrivances that I will certainly never read. As pop kid lit goes, it seems harmless, though. And if it leads 13-year-old to greater books, more power to them.

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  

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