Friday, February 18, 2011
"I Am Number Four" (opening February 18 throughout San Diego) is a teen action film with hopes of a franchise.
"I Am Number Four" was a paranormal sci-fi teen romance adventure novel by Pittacus Lore (the pen name of authors James Frey and Jobie Hughes) that came out last year and made the New York Times bestseller list. There are six books planned in the series, and Dreamworks and producer Michael Bay obviously saw franchise written all over the series. In the hands of director D. J. Caruso and writers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon, the film of "I Am Number 4" proves to be enjoyable with a potential to find a youth audience.
The film is something of a mix of "The X-Files" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It takes the paranormal elements of the former and the teen appeal of the latter. It also has something of a small screen TV feel despite its big screen IMAX visual effects. But that shouldn't bee too surprising since many of the creative team have worked in television. Caruso worked on "The Shield;" Gough and Millar wrote for "Smallville;" and Noxon was a producer on "Buffy."
The story involves two warring factions of aliens that came to earth long ago. The Loriens look human and are being hunted by the evil Mogodorians that are humanoid but with extraordinary height and some odd gill-like nostrils and bad teeth. John (Alex Pettyfer) is a Lorien who's trying to fit into high school while developing extraordinary powers that will help him in fighting the Mogs. He's also dealing with the usual teen angst, rebellion, and first love.
The film delivers action that's a little more gritty than Hollywood teen movies are usually comfortable with. So there are a number of deaths and some bloody violence in the film (so don't bring little kids to this one). But by starting out with the Mogs displaying some brutal violence and being a genuine threat to the Loriens, the film builds some tension. Caruso keeps the pace brisk even though he has to dispense with a lot of pure exposition to explain what the rules are in this new world we are shown.
As John, Pettyfer is bland but hunky. He doesn't add much to the film but he doesn't really detract from it either. He's likable and very sincere. Timothy Olyphant (of "Deadwood" fame) plays a character much like the Giles character in Buffy – both are the adult authority figure always reminding the teen of his/her destiny and responsibility. Olyphant is good in an essentially underwritten role. The two females in the film are both blonde cuties distinguished only by their accents and one's preference for weaponry. Diana Agron is the love interest – she has the American accent and is only armed with a camera. Teresa Palmer plays Number 6 and sports her native Australian accent (something she's not allowed to do in the painfully bad "Take Me Home Tonight" coming out next month) and a Buffy-like attitude about kicking ass. Callan MacAuliffe brings the comic relief as the nerdy friend Sam.
The effects – which I did not see in IMAX – were nicely done. The Mogs had effective make up and the creatures that get introduced late in the film were a fun addition. Caruso packs the film with more and higher caliber action than such teen adventures usually have and that adds to the film's appeal.
I went into "I Am Number Four" (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for language) with very low expectations so to say that I was pleasantly surprised may not be high praise. The film is definitely aimed at young audiences but parents and adults can also find some entertainment value in what is essentially nothing more than the launch for a franchise.
Companion viewing: "Alien Nation," "Starman," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (TV series or feature film)