Three are dead. Who is Number Four? From director D. J. Caruso (Disturbia), producer Michael Bay (Transformers) and the writers of TV’s Smallville comes this gripping, action-packed thriller. John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is an extraordinary teen masking his true identity to elude a deadly enemy sent to destroy him. Living with his guardian (Timothy Oliphant) in the small town he calls home, John encounters unexpected, life-changing events – his first love (Dianna Agron, TV’s Glee), powerful new abilities and a secret connection to the others who share his incredible destiny. Complete with deleted scenes and more, I Am Number Four is an explosive, suspense-filled ride that will take you to the edge of your seat and beyond.
If you’re a Twi-hard aching for a fix to hold you over until Breaking Dawn, you’re probably going to love this film. But if you’re not an angst-ridden teen who daydreams of superpowers, vampire romance or drowning the school’s star quarterback in his own sweat, you may feel differently about it. Put simply, I Am Number Four is a derivative, centreless action movie that careens from one tired young-adult plot device to another as it wends its way to the painfully obvious endgame. The story revolves around John Smith, a fun-loving teen who is shaken from his idyllic beach-bum life and put on the run by a portent of impending danger. When he shows up at a new school in a different state, he finds himself almost devoid of friends. But though John isn’t exactly popular at his new school, his good looks and basic decency land him in the sights of a pretty, arty former cheerleader.
But there’s more: John is also an alien. Or rather, one of the last, most precious citizens of a planet ploughed under by a marauding race called the Mogadorians. Each of these nine specially-chosen fugitives has a guardian, whose job it is to help the young hero develop his or her powers. Add a theme song by Nerf Herder and you’re two shakes from a sci-fi Buffy the Vampire Slayer; it’s an aspect not at all mitigated by the fact that master of the Buffyverse Marti Noxon was brought on-board during the writing phase to punch-up the movie’s dialogue. I Am Number Four has some nice moments, great visuals and a few good lines, but ultimately, this colourless coming-of-age tale is completely forgettable, covers ground already done well in Buffy (and less well in Twilight); and shows all the subtlety and nuance that we’ve come to expect from anything that Michael Bay touches.
The film is a visually brilliant effort that hangs beautiful, mostly convincing special effects on the framework laid by Guillermo Navarro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II) adept cinematography. By and large, the colour fidelity is bang-on, with bright tones that pop, blacks that swallow light whole and skin tones that glow with life. Issues only arise in extremely dark scenes, where the scenes come off as looking a little compressed. Shots are well-framed, if not exactly arty, and the editing keeps the film flowing at a pleasant pace.
Like the visuals, the soundtrack, effects and dialogue are all very well done, with a clarity of tone that rivals any other big-budget movie out there. Like the writing, the sound shows little subtlety, going instead for big, fustian sound effects and a dynamic, immersive sound space that moves around and makes full use of all 5.1 audio channels to put the viewer right into every scene.
It’s getting harder to judge a Blu-ray’s extras these days. Some films come with an overwrought carnival of bloopers, interviews and picture galleries, while others opt for an almost Scandinavian minimalism. I Am Number Four sits somewhere in the middle, with some deleted scenes (some of which are quite good), plus a blooper reel and a featurette called Becoming Number Six, which explores the process that Teresa Palmer went through to become Number Six, a Faith Lehane type (to continue with the Buffy parallel) who promises to be central to subsequent movies, though she only really coalesces in the third act of this one.
Menu & Packaging
The packaging is nothing special: a middle-of-the-road graphic design, some half-baked market speak on the back and the usual Blu-ray case, wrapped in the same pointless cardboard sleeve that every other film comes in. It’s strictly average. Like the menus, which show little creativity or attention on the designers’ part.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts
Watching a Michael Bay movie can leave you with the feeling that the last piece of footage he cared about (investment value aside) was the Megan Fox Ferrari-carwash audition tape he allegedly keeps in his private spank bank. The man makes vapid, big-budget movies that go “boom,” then laughs all the way to the bank. On the other hand, much of D. J. Caruso’s pedigree lies in music videos, young-adult TV stuff like Smallville or movies like Shia LaBeouf vehicle Disturbia. Put these two together and you get a big-budget, young-adult film that goes “boom,” and not much else. Timothy Oliphant’s tortured guardian and Kevin Durand’s delightful Mogadorian commander are hints of what the film could have been, had the acting been uniformly good. But even then, the stilted storyline and occasionally lacklustre writing would still have hampered the experience in a big way.