By: Roxana Hadadi
We humans are never going to get over our fascination with aliens. Fox Mulder just wanted to believe in “The X-Files.” David Bowie made us all seriously question his humanity more than three decades ago after his 1976 film debut in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” And in the next month or so, numerous films about the inhabitants of our surrounding galaxy – “Battle: Los Angeles,” “Mars Needs Moms” – will again test our understanding and acceptance of the unknown.
You can smoothly ease into that alien state of mind with “I Am Number Four,” a teen action flick with a dash of romance thrown in, based on the book by authors James Frey and Jobie Hughes under the pen name Pittacus Lore. Though the book was published in August, DreamWorks Pictures already obtained the rights for the film more than a year earlier in June 2009 – meaning you can probably expect sequels to this film, especially because “I Am Number Four” is the first of a six-book series.
Yes, that means possibly five more sequels. Never since the “Chronicles of Narnia” film revamp for children has such a thought filled me with so much dread.
Quite honestly, “I Am Number Four” is not a bad way to spend 103 minutes: there are huge explosions, scary showdowns, good effects, believable CGI, thrilling fight and chase scenes – in short, everything teens will need to have a good time. But the simplistic plot here isn’t one that can sufficiently continue on for five more books or films, not unless Frey and Hughes whip out every literary trick ever and the future movies’ effects, scripts and acting all get totally amazing. This isn’t a thrill ride that can enjoyably be sustained for too long – eventually, its inadequacies when compared to better extraterrestrial-centered films, like the “Alien” series, “The Fifth Element” and even those goofy “Men In Black” movies, will be too much to bear.
But for now, it will do. At least until you start thinking about it too much.
The film focuses on Four (Alex Pettyfer), a human-looking alien teen hiding out on Earth with eight other similarly aged extraterrestrials; the last nine of their race from the planet Lorien, they’re being hunted by rival aliens the Mogadorians, crazy-tall guys with pointy shark-like teeth and gills next to their noses who completely destroyed their home planet. Are there female Mogadorians? It doesn’t look like it. These guys are evil, carry around torture devices and want to party with blood. What lady would put up with that?
So yeah, they’re trailing Four, who travels around the country with his protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), in order to keep the Mogadorians off their scent. In the film’s opening scene, we see the bad guys find and kill alien Three, a trauma that burns another scar into Four’s leg; he gets them whenever another alien dies, a phenomenon that threatens to blow his cover as Daniel Jones, a normal human teen hanging out in Florida. Knowing that the Mogadorians – led by Commander (Kevin Durand) – will close in on them next, Henri moves the pair to small, sleepy Paradise, Ohio, where Four now poses as high school student John Smith.
Though Henri warns him to keep a low profile, Four/John can’t help getting involved when the school jocks, led by football player Mark (Jake Abel), pick on nerdy Sam (Callan McAuliffe), who just happens to believe in aliens. And Four/John also can’t keep his eyes off Sarah (Dianna Agron), the school’s beautiful-but-understood blonde who, much like Chloe Sullivan did with Clark Kent in the CW’s “Smallville,” begins to pick up on her mysterious friend’s secret.
Teenagers’ lives are never easy (duh! angst!), though, and soon we learn that Four/John isn’t the only one with problems – Sam’s father disappeared years ago, leaving him lonely and looking for vengeance, and Sarah yearns of moving far away, to a place where she can start anew. Whether any of their dreams can actually happen with the Mogadorians on Four/John’s trail, however, depends on whether the alien can learn to harness his powers and protect his friends before the bad guys come calling.
The film relies on Pettyfer as Four/John, of course, but the part could probably be played by any buff teen with abs and sun-kissed highlights. Since most of the fight and action scenes seem CGI-heavy, it’s not like Pettyfer really needs to do anything but switch between pouting and raging; things should seem more serious and perilous for him, since his whole future is at stake, but the actor never really delivers that urgency. Olyphant is better as the concerned guardian, delivering tons of emotions with his eyebrows and shrugs, and Agron taps into the sensitive girl we’ve seen her be on TV’s “Glee” with her portrayal of Sarah. Pettyfer and Agron have chemistry, but they’re together in real life, so that should be expected. Whether their characters reconnect in future sequels of the film, however, may depend on the role inhabited by Teresa Palmer, an Australian actress who steals scenes in this film with a wisecracking attitude and adept fighting style. When she appears onscreen, she’s undeniably a better protagonist and leading star than Pettyfer in nearly every way.
Teens should get a kick out of most of the film, which really picks up steam toward its final third in a showdown between Four/John’s crew and their more low-tech weapons, such as daggers, and the Mogadorians, who tote guns that shoot balls of fire and who control a monstrous beast, like a mix of a flying squirrel and a raging saber-toothed tiger, that can tear apart anything in its path. The fight scenes may be over-the-top for younger teens – the Mogadorians truly look disgusting, with their gills and sharpened teeth, and the slashing fights and explosions are quite jarring at times – but since the film lacks much sexual material, explicit violence or crass language, it should be OK for older viewers.
But you’ll be left with tons of questions that begin to cloud the impressive effects the film delivers: Why did the nine aliens get sent to earth? Why do the Mogadorians want to kill them anyway? What role with the aliens play in the future of humankind? Perhaps more of those answers will come as the book series continues, but until then, “I Am Number Four” doesn’t deliver quite enough emotional and visual wallop to ever truly graduate out of high school.