I AM NUMBER FOUR (12A): On General Release Wednesday 22nd February
With the colossal shadow of Twilight hanging over every teen sci-fi/fantasy film likely to be released in the next few years, comparisons to Stephanie Myer’s vampire odyssey are inevitable. On the surface, that seems justified – both involve a social outcast that becomes romantically involved with a handsome teen with superpowers and both feature a cast that wouldn’t look out of place in an issue of Vogue.
But while Twilight had every female teen in the land swooning over R-Patz (or Taylor Lautner – the choice is yours) and was saturated with enough slushy romance for an entire bookcase worth of Mills and Boon novels, I Am Number Four is at its heart about identity and belonging.
Alex Pettyfer (Tormented) stars as John, a teenage alien who has fled his home world along with eight of his brethren. They’re being hunted to extinction by the Mogadorians, a warlike race bent on conquest and three of the nine have already been killed (a superb opening sequence shows the demise of Number Three).
Travelling with his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant), who also doubles as a surrogate father figure, he’s constantly on the move. His travels bring him to the small town of Paradise, Ohio where he falls for Sarah (Glee’s Diana Agron), a loner photographer, and befriends geeky UFO enthusiast Sam (Callan MacAuliffe). Deciding that he’s had enough of running now that he has something to fight for, Number Four stands his ground against the invading Mogadorian forces aided by the timely arrival of the ass-kicking Number Six (Teresa Palmer).
The first two thirds of the movie could be from any high school drama series you’d care to name. Number Four juggles the difficulties of being the new kid at school whilst appeasing his fake dad and concealing his emerging superpowers (something familiar to anyone that’s seen Smallville and will no doubt be tackled again in the forthcoming Spider-Man movie). It’s here where I Am Number Four sags, splashing around in the shallow waters of generic teen romance and lightweight high school drama that’s been done to death; 20 minutes could have been shaved off without consequence.
Thankfully the film’s third act pushes the mushy teenage romance to one side and introduces Number Six (Teresa Palmer), a deadpan snarker in black leather sure to be the subject of many a teen fantasy for years to come. It’s here director DJ Caruso’s connection with Michael Bay becomes apparent, as four and six defend a high school from the invading Mogadorians, wreaking a path of destruction as they unleash their newfound powers.
There are a few corny sequences cynically designed to tug at heart strings (including a scene with a puppy guaranteed to draw awwws from anyone under 16 and vomit from everyone else), the usual bevy of clichéd dialogue and some thin characterisation (Olyphant in particular is almost transparent) but for the most part, there’s enough frenetic action to keep it an engaging teen popcorn movie.
With the promise of another four aliens to find and with their powers unleashed, the stage is set for an inevitable sequel but if I Am Number Four can capitalise on its strengths and avoid descending into generic mush, this could shape up to be a cracking teen series.
Read our interview with I Am Number Four director DJ Caruso here.