Twilight with alien superheroes.
I mean, I'm going to write a whole review and everything -- breathe! it's okay -- but still, those couple of words tell you just about everything you could possibly need to know about I Am Number Four. It's
shamelessly repackaging the Twilight formula in a slightly different box, only instead of not-really-horror that's catnip for teenage girls, it skews more towards action/sci-fi to play better to the XY brigade. Judging by the lackluster reviews, mediocre box office, and the news that the prepackaged sequel has been nixed, the gamble of Twilight-for-boys really didn't pay off so much.
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A long, long time ago in a galaxy far away, a race of bloodthirsty aliens called the Mogadorians decided to wipe out everyone on the cheerful little planet of Lorien. A few stragglers managed to escape the genocide -- nine young children who were shuttled to Earth and scattered across the globe, each protected by a warrior/guardian-type. Well, the Mogadorians are a pretty thorough bunch, and they've not only traced the few remaining Lorienians back to Earth, but they're slaughtering these children in a very specific order because...well, I don't think they ever really say. Just because. Anyway, numbers one through three have been skewered, and that brings us to Number Four (Alex Pettyfer). While some of the other Numbers have tried to stay as far off the radar as possible, Four doesn't sweat it. There's surviving and then there's living, and he'll just as soon take whatever's waiting behind Door Number Two. He refuses to cut himself off from the world around him, and if something goes south, then he always has his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) to clean up yet another mess and shuttle him off somewhere else. Most of I Am Number Four is set in the sleepy little hamlet of Paradise, Ohio. Henri claims to have some kind of business there, and while he's taking care of that, whatever it is, Number Four takes up the name "John Smith" and enrolls in high school. You've got your double-digit IQ jocks (among them Supernatural alum Jake Abel), there's a perpetually tormented nerdy kid seething over there in the corner (Callan McAuliffe), and...oh! Since this movie's doing the whole Twilight thing, John imprints on Sarah (Dianna Agron), a super-cute shutterbug who used to be one of the cool kids but is now content to look at the world through a camera lens...watching, documenting, but never really a part of things. Or something like that. Anyway, romance! A jealous ex-boyfriend! (Sarah's ex, I mean.) And...golly, look over there! Legions of alien invaders with razor-sharp teeth, heavy
artillery, and a tractor trailer with a couple of gigantic, feral flying creatures packed inside. Too bad for them that they're swarming in just as John's birthright -- immense strength, agility, and the ability to generate concussive blasts of light from his hands -- have started to manifest, and he's not the only Number on the bill either...
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I Am Number Four isn't a movie; it's a Greatest Hits comp. Every character, every relationship, every arc, every action sequence, every everything has been nicked straight out of another movie. You know that whole cliché about how giving an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters will get you the works of Shakespeare...? Giving twenty monkeys a copy of Final Draft 7, a few Smallville box sets, a dog-eared copy of Twilight, and a link to tvtropes.org scores you the screenplay for I Am Number Four. You've got the supernatural high school romance with the Cool Losers that's been Xeroxed from Twilight. The Mogadorians seem to be visually modeled at least somewhat after Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. The blue good-guy-light-beams versus the red bad-guy-lasers is right outta G.I. Joe. Henri's a straightahead Obi-Wan/surrogate father type. There's the whole Cool Guys Don't Look at Explosions routine. The stated goal is to march in lockstep with what they think the market wants, roll out a prefab francise, and watch a few hundred million bucks flood in. This is shameless pandering. Love Twilight or hate it, a whole heckuva lot of people feel a really close connection to its characters, and with sparkly vampires strolling around during the day and playing baseball or whatever, it's...uh, definitely its own thing. I Am Number Four doesn't take any chances and never bothers to come up with anything all that distinctive or unique to set itself apart. The story as well as its characters are completely uninvolving and uninspired.
...which is a drag because honestly, I really do like pretty much everything else about the movie. The cast of I Am Number Four is charming and likeable straight across the board. The story may be so aggressively bland that I don't care about the blossoming romance or much of anything else that's going on, but the actors are appealing enough to keep the movie completely watchable, and I don't mean that as a backhanded compliment. If they'd been handed better material, maybe a franchise could've spun out of this after all. The Mogadorians are the
real showstealers, though. There aren't a whole lot of actors who give Bad Guy nearly as well as Kevin Durand, and...just everything about the alien invaders is perfect. The creature design is menacing and unnerving. I love the way they speak: the rhythm, the smirking playfulness, that bit of awkwardness as they try to get a grasp on our language, that alien fascination with how utterly useless and ineffective seemingly everyone on this mudball is -- honestly, it'd be an unrecognizably different movie if not for Durand carrying so many scenes they way he does, and he's without a doubt the best thing about I Am Number Four. The movie also sets out to earn its sense of spectacle. Rather than tossing in some deliriously over-the-top action setpiece every fifteen minutes, I Am Number Four lets it escalate. The conflicts are more grounded and human once Number Four first breezes into the frame, and as he discovers his powers and gains a stronger grasp on them, the brawls get larger and larger in scope. The real money shots are all saved for the climax, and that restraint pays off. Some unconvincing wire work aside, the visual effects work here is tremendous, and the scale and staging of the action sequences make for an infectiously hyperkinetic rush of adrenaline. Is there much of a narrative payoff or whatever to Number Six not really being introduced until the tail-end of the movie, storming into a high school unannounced and blowing the holy hell out of a bunch of aliens? Not really. Does it look awesome? Yup. Same for John's shapeshifting pet chimera, which only seems to exist so a couple of gigantic CGI beasties could sink their teeth and claws into each other. That's just there to look cool, but it does, so I guess that means it works.
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So, yeah, I Am Number Four boasts a likeable cast, fantastic visual effects work, and some spectacular action, and sure, a good bit of what I look for in an action/sci-fi popcorn flick is present and accounted for here. The only thing that's missing is...y'know, a worthwhile script. I Am Number Four spends so much time dissecting formulas and cherry-picking genre tropes that it forgets to be even a little bit engaging. I could live with the movie being this derivative as long as it gave me a reason to care about anything that's going on, but...well, I don't. I Am Number Four isn't excruciating to suffer through or anything -- no, it plays it way too safe for that to happen -- but shrugging off a movie as "watchable" or "competent, I guess" isn't much of a reason to wanna shell out twentysomething bucks and change to own it forever and ever. Nah, Rent It.
C'mon, I Am Number Four is a glossy, effects-heavy, studio science fiction flick: of course it looks perfect. No, really -- straight off the bat, the high-def visuals here are astonishingly crisp and immaculately detailed. The texture of the original 35mm photography is tight and wholly unintrusive, not suffering from the slightest trace of filtering or distracting noise reduction. Colors are bright and breathtakingly vivid in the bright of day, and contrast remains consistently rock solid throughout. Bolstered by deep, inky blacks, I Am Number Four boasts an impressive sense of depth and dimensionality as well. Slickly photographed, minted from the digital intermediate, carefully authored, and handed a respectable bitrate, there's absolutely nothing for me to nitpick or grouse about here. Perfect.
The three-disc set I'm reviewing here does include a DVD, and if you're wondering how this high definition presentation stacks up by comparison...well, pop open any of the screenshots below. Not much of a contest, though:
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The AVC encode for I Am Number Four spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and the image is very slightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
I Am Number Four's 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack stands right on the brink of perfection as well. As you'd probably expect from a movie with superfueled teenage aliens squaring off against hordes of bloodthirsty invaders, the lower frequencies snarl with aggression, and this lossless soundtrack takes full advantage of every other channel at its fingertips too. Because I Am Number Four holds back on its biggest setpieces until the end, the surrounds early on are reserved mostly for mood and atmosphere -- pigeons darting around a shuttered steel mill; the spooky sounds on a haunted hayride -- but the higher the action is ratcheted in the movie, the more intense the rears get as well. Even with the colossal scale of the havoc wreaked once the climax rolls around, the film's dialogue remains nicely balanced and is unwaveringly rendered cleanly and clearly. Again...this is a big-budget sci-fi/action flick; how else do you think it's gonna sound? No complaints or concerns whatsoever...tremendous work.
Also included are an English descriptive video service track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
Not much. Since I Am Number Four was
engineered from word one as a franchise, maybe the thought was to hold all the real extras back for a re-release when I Am Number Four Part Two roared into theaters? The safe money says that's not gonna happen, so it looks like this is it.
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- Deleted Scenes (19 min.; HD): Although director D.J. Caruso opted not to record an audio commentary for this Blu-ray disc, he does pop up to introduce each of the six deleted scenes in this reel. There's an alternate and less effective version of the tin-foil hat conspiracy nuts cowering at the Mogadorians in a basement, along with a cameo by Karen Allen, John doing a little property damage in the name of revenge, as well a few short character snippets.
- Becoming Number Six (12 min.; HD): The lone featurette on I Am Number Four doesn't say anything about the adaptation penned by alums from Smallville and Buffy, no in-depth look at the visual effects, nothing about the original book, nothing about what sparked the idea... nope, it's just about the ass-kicking alien Number Six and the Aussie actress who brought her to life. The featurette offers a quick peek behind the scenes at the making of pretty much every appearance of Six in the movie as well as Teresa Palmer's grueling training regimen and stuntwork. Although it doesn't get even a little bit technical, "Becoming Number Six" does close by showing off different stages of the effects work, from the original green screen shots to the final, polished composites.
- Bloopers (3 min.; HD): The only other extra is a pretty straightforward blooper reel.
I Am Number Four is getting a couple separate releases on Blu-ray. The first includes only one disc, and everything I've said up to this point in the review holds true for that release too. The other is a three-disc set, although there aren't any exclusive extras or anything like that waiting for you there. No, its second disc is a standard issue DVD, and the third is a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices. It's appreciated that Touchstone and Dreamworks are giving viewers the opportunity to choose rather than forcing the premium of a three-disc set on 'em. For what it's worth, the three-disc set does come packaged in a glossy, embossed slipcover. Not sure if the same holds true for the single disc release.
The Final Word
After looking at the scores on sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, I'm probably supposed to be writing something snarky and sarcastic right about now, but I kinda/sorta dug I Am Number Four: it sports a really likeable cast, a slew of hyperkinetic action sequences, world-class visual effects, some truly menacing alien invaders...in so many ways, the movie hits the target dead-center over and over again. It's just that I Am Number Four lets itself get dragged down by an aggressively generic story and thinly-sketched characters. The mission statement clearly didn't reach much higher than "just like Twilight, only this one's for boys too!" It plays like someone stitched together three episodes of Smallville but for some reason heaped on a summer blockbuster budget. There really is a good bit that I genuinely like about I Am Number Four, but with a story as uninvolving and uninspired as this, who cares? Rent It.