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I Am Number Four worth only two

Photo by John Bramley | and John Bramley The Rice Thresher
"I AM NUMBER FOUR" IA-090 John (Alex Pettyfer) protects Sam (Callan McAuliffe) in this scene from DreamWorks Pictures’ suspense thriller “I am Number Four.” Ph: John Bramley ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC.  All Rights Reserved.

By Anthony Lauriello     2/17/11 6:00pm

Of all the myriad film genres, none is more awkward than the teen action movie. The new film by director D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye), I Am Number Four serves as an exemplar of a film where the enormous concerns of a high school crush and the fate of the world weigh equally on the protagonist's mind. While the film has a few glimmering moments, it ends up transforming a relatively strong premise into a ridiculous tale that the audience is more likely to laugh at than connect to. The story focuses on teenager and alien John Smith (Alex Pettyfer, Tormented), the fourth in a group of nine extraterrestrials sent to Earth as infants for an unknown greater purpose involving their superhuman abilities. The evil Mogadorians pursue the nine, in order of their numbers, so they can conquer and decimate our fair planet.

The film opens with the murder of Number Three, forcing John and his guardian (Timothy Olyphant, The Crazies) to leave Florida for the town of Paradise, Ohio. In the picturesque town, John makes friends with the socially ostracized Sam (Callan McAuliffe, Flipped), falls in love with the beautiful Sarah Hart (Dianna Agron, "Glee") and makes enemies with football quarterback and bully Mark (Jack Abel, The Lovely Bones). Alas, poor John does not have much time to enjoy the agonies and ecstasies of high school movie clichés before the Mogadorians begin to hunt him down, forcing him to team up with his new acquaintances and the combat-ready Number Six (Teresa Palmer, Bedtime Stories) to defend himself and the planet.

While Michael Bay (Transformers) only produced the film, D.J. Caruso's style seems to take after the blockbuster director in I Am Number Four. The filming emphasizes over-the-top shots and explosions to the point where either subtlety or nuance has absolutely no place. While this does energize the action sequences, it gives the movie the feel of a video game. This is compounded with the fact that when the aliens die, they become gray dust and blow away. This nonsensical and ridiculous touch allows the film to be friendly for children but clearly shows that the writers held audience market demographics, not quality story, first and foremost. The score of the film echoes this as it seems that Caruso simply looked at songs popularly downloaded on iTunes and put them in the movie wherever he could fit them.

The casting of the film further adds evidence to my theory that everyone in Hollywood thinks that high school is for attractive people in their mid-twenties. While I am sure Pettyfer was considered for his ability to seem cool to young boys and dreamy to young girls, he seems laughably older then many of his classmates, especially his friend Sam. When the two spend time together, this difference has almost pedophilic overtones. The strongest acting is from Olyphant, who must manage delivering lines such as "Unlike the humans, when we love, we love forever" with a serious and somber expression.

As the action of the movie heightens, the high school subplots become more and more out of place and absurd. When evil aliens shoot huge red laser guns at Sarah, she seems far more concerned that John might have some feelings for the newly introduced Number Six than with the prospect of dying a slow and painful death. Furthermore, the end of the movie features a plot hole so large and inexplicable that I could not help but vocalize my frustration in the middle of the theater. Despite all these caveats, I sadly am aware that the movie will probably prove to be a hit. The end of the movie is a perfect set up for a sequel, and unless I am pleasantly disappointed, we shall soon see Hollywood churn out another film in the series that appeals to the lowest common denominator.

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