I Am Number Four is one of those great blockbuster anomalies: a movie that wants nothing more to give the audience a giddy sugar rush of entertainment, but is somehow boring enough to induce comas and/or suicides instead. The motivation of the filmmakers behind this turd is clear enough. They want to launch the next Harry Potter-style teen/fantasy franchise by tapping into gentle sci-fi action rather than fantasy. The problem is that director D.J. Caruso and co. latched onto an unpublished manuscript that must have seemed destined for massive success at the time, but ended up landing on bookshelves with a thud. Humble filmmakers might have admitted their mistake and moved onto the next franchise in the making. But no, these folks blindly pressed on and blew over $100 million dollars on a project destined for audience apathy.
Here’s the plot and if it sounds confusing when condensed to text, I can assure you that it actually makes even less sense when delivered by bored actors in candy-colored cinematography. Alex Pettyfer plays a supposedly average teen with a secret: he’s one of the last surviving members of an extinct alien race who are being hunted down by a separate more reptilian (and therefore evil) group of aliens. Pettyfer’s clan is being knocked off in a specific order and as you might have guessed he is the next in line as number four. Apparently all of these numbered survivors have special powers that can combine to take down the evil aliens. You’d think that would be reason enough to keep the team together so that they can kick some collective ass whenever a threat arrives. But that require logic, which this flick never attempts. Instead they are separated and guarded by a non-super powered protector (in this case Pettyfer’s protector is the underrated Timothy Olyphant who delivers the only half-decent performance in the movie), living a nomadic life perpetually on the run.
Now theoretically that should be enough plot for one movie, but oh no there’s more. You see, this isn’t just some flashy sci-fi action flick, but a movie that wants us to buy the super-powered protagonist as an everyday teen. He’s frustrated that he can never stay in one place long enough to make close friends and in a device shamelessly stolen from Spiderman develops his blue fire spouting special powers in an manner meant to be symbolize puberty. Conveniently, the movie sees him make his first real friends, a blonde hottie photographer who becomes his first love (Dianna Agron) and an awkward science nerd/budding conspiracy theorist who believes in aliens (Callan McAuliffe). The characters are set up to be the foundation of a franchise, but it’s highly unlikely that part two will ever be made.
The main problem with the movie is that the supposedly “realistic” teen drama simply doesn’t work. Quite apart from the fact that the main cast all look like they are pushing thirty, there’s nothing here that doesn’t feel like sub-Dawson’s Creek teen drama cliché. Perhaps the young actors’ are talented enough to pull this mix off with a decent script, but with nothing to work with they struggle to deliver hacky exposition-heavy dialogue with the embarrassed uncertainly of a soap opera star. With no one to identify with on even a minor level, it’s impossible to care about what happens in the action sequences. Disturbia director D.J. Caruso shows evidence of having skill with pulse-pounding action and sweat-inducing suspense, but the material he’s working with is so dull that it amounts to little more than sound and fury.
As the Harry Potter and Twilight films near the end of their respective runs, we can expect Hollywood to start crapping out wannabe teen blockbusters like I Am Number Four at a depressingly increasing rate. The sad thing is that there will be failed franchise starters even worse than I Am Number Four, which at least gets points for style and scale. In a few years we may even look back on this film as being surprisingly decent in comparison to the dreck that will inevitably follow. For now, the film can stand alongside the likes of Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief and The Vampire’s Assistant as the worst of this sad little trend. Hollywood should be trying to find a new original screenplay that will become the next big thing because no one has ever seen anything like it before. But that’s not how the studio system works. They like to Xerox rather than create and I Am Number Four is just the latest example of why that approach doesn’t work. Enter the theater at your own risk.