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Offering Aliens, School Drama, Laser Beams, and Action

Movie Review: I Am Number Four (2011)
Summary: John and his fellow fugitive aliens must blend in and seek refuge on earth as they try to locate others of their kind.
Spoilers: none

In I Am Number Four, “John Smith” (Alex Pettyfer) is among the last of a dying breed of aliens seeking refuge on earth from a race of conquerors called the Mogadorians (sounds science fiction-y enough). His family having perished, young John is mentored and looked after by “Henri” (Timothy Olyphant) whose responsibility is to keep them both alive, especially John who possesses greater powers than others of his kind.

John is number four and has the grave displeasure of knowing that numbers 1, 2, and 3 have all been tracked down and killed. Being that he’s numerically next in line, he has much to worry about (why these Mogadorians choose to kill in chronological order is either a mystery or a plot component that never received much thought. Make of it what you will).

After raising too much suspicion in one place, the two must move on to another. We come upon his latest move to a new neighborhood where John goes to school to blend in and beat boredom at the same time. There, he meets “Sarah” (Dianna Agron) and the two are drawn to each other, pulling him out of feeling compelled to live life on the run to instead appreciate the turbulent delicacies of teen companionship. But when his friend “Sam” (Callan McAuliffe) stumbles upon proof of John’s powers as an alien – and as the Mogadorians get closer to finding him – his ability to keep concealed proves increasingly difficult.

Based on a teen science fiction best-selling novel with the title “I Am Number Four,” the movie offers quite a bit by way of intensity, action, and a very titillating use of special affects. The leaps off of cliffs, the laser guns and beams, the morphing pets, and the teleportation abilities are brought to us vividly and with great care. They spared no expense in making them as real as we could want them to be. 

It is the school drama of IaN4 that brings the same “homecoming king vs. science nerd” sort of face-offs we’ve come to expect in our teen viewing, but the film easily qualifies as something on level with a kick-ass after school sci-fi special that is a slow romancer and a slow starter, but tucked inside a story that is very easy to follow, with the kind of surface-level science fiction that a young (non-geek) audience would most enjoy. Because of its characters, it remains likable, refusing to give itself away too early.

While it could be considered a lot like the Twilight series, it is far less devoted to its romance and offers no “eye candy” in the form of shirtless boys with washboard abs. The time taken to bring John home to be with Sarah and the family is as close as we get, and is reasonable as per the direction of the story. Being very noticeably made for teen audiences, the film gets kudos for giving everyone what they want. Adults and kids only need overlook a few kinks in the hose of the plot to have a good time at the movies.

There are two things that fail to make sense in the story; the first we have already mentioned; 1) Why must the Mogadorians kill in the order in which the survivors are known? And 2) Why do these Mogadorians need to go as far as Earth to finish them off? If they annihilated the home world of John’s race as we are informed, why go out of the way to come to earth to vanquish the survivors? The Mogadorians are conquerors of worlds, we are told. And conquerors of worlds and conquerors of lands have in common that logic dictates to both that it makes sense to take what you can use from a people and move on, not to chase down a few fledgling survivors from the far ends of the galaxy.

In both questions, we see what appears to be our main problem emerging, which is that no more thought went into the project than was necessary. A story was created that could include a teen dating element and a sci-fi element to keep interest. This is further scene in that these Mogadorians come off and sound like big, dumb, unfunny class retards with goth design patterns shaved into their heads, with the “we’re the obvious bad guys” gear to match. They happen to not be needed, but are also not too much to handle.

When you go from a kid’s book to a kid’s movie and don’t make a few changes to give the plot some logistical solidarity, you have problems like these. None of this changes the fact that I was extremely entertained in the watching of it. Growing in appeal with each passing ten-minute interval, we end up with a movie that is a fun and explosive experience at the movies. In this case, too much thinking doesn't screw that up.  

(JH)

Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and some language)
Director: D.J. Caruso
Starring: “John” (Alex Pettyfer), “Henri” (Timothy Olyphant), “Number 6” (Teresa Palmer),  “Sarah” (Dianna Agron), “Sam” (Callan McAuliffe), “Mogadorian Commander” (Kevin Durand), “Mark” (Jake Abel), “Sheriff James” (Jeff Hochendoner), “Kevin” (Patrick Sebes), “Number 3” (Greg Townley), “Nicole” (Emily Wickersham), “Frank” (Brian Howe), “Bret” (Andy Owen)
Genre: Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller
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