I Am Number Four review

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Review Ryan Lambie 18 Feb 2011 - 04:44

A mixture of sci-fi fantasy and teen romance, I Am Number Four arrives in UK cinemas. It’s a strange but compelling rollercoaster ride, Ryan writes…

This review contains spoilers.

In a supermarket car park, a gang of bald aliens feed frozen turkeys to a monster hidden in an 18-wheel juggernaut. In a dilapidated Victorian detached house, Timothy Olyphant stares perplexedly at an enchanted pewter tissue box. Meanwhile, a mysterious girl blows up a shed, and a lizard turns into a cute dog. What can it all mean? Having sat through almost two hours of I Am Number Four, I'm still not entirely certain.

More than any other film of the last six months (even more so than the amiably ridiculous Skyline), I Am Number Four piles its pot high with elements from other movies and genres. It's a sci-fi teen romance that cheerfully throws giant monsters, shape-shifting pets, glowing shotgun battles and high school angst into its bubbling stew.

The pouting, pert Alex Pettyfer is the put upon alien youth John Smith, the Number Four of the title who, along with his guardian Henri (Olyphant), has spent much of his life on the run from an evil race of extraterrestrials called Mogs, who all look like Lord Voldemort with gills.

Arriving in the peaceful backwater town of Paradise, Ohio, John embarks on a series of clichéd teen encounters - getting on the wrong side of the school bully (who looks like Thumb Bandits presenter Iain Lee, but is actually The Lovely Bones actor Jake Abel), embarking on a furtive relationship with doe-eyed photography enthusiast Sarah (Dianna Agron), and defending school misfit Sam (Callan McAuliffe) from assorted wedgies, noogies and wet willies.

Hardly the most engaging couple to appear on the big screen, John and Sarah stare and smile their way through an hour of chaste romance, before everything goes completely nuts. John discovers he can throw people and heavy objects around with his glowing hands, and the creatures in the Mogs' juggernaut are unleashed. Apparently going cold turkey, they start destroying the entire school and its accompanying grounds.

I Am Number Four is a weird, oddly paced movie of stock dialogue, coming of age scenarios and variable computer graphics. It introduces not one but four enchanted objects – a glowing dagger, a medallion, a weird geode, and the aforementioned pewter tissue box – but barely takes the time to explain what they do.

And in the place of dramatic build-up, the film simply introduces another new element to keep the story moving on. Remember the girl who blew up the shed at the start of this review? She's Number Six (Teresa Palmer) and shows up long after you've forgotten all about her. To the astonishment of every other member of the cast, she steps off her motorcycle and proceeds to kill everything she sees, as though she's marched in from a Resident Evil sequel.

Some ill-advised cinematography only adds to the mirth. Characters walk through sheets of fire in slow motion (cue titters from the audience), while the film must surely be worthy of an award for its bravura shot of a limping beagle (cue outright laughter).

It's by no means a terrible film, but it's an odd one; a weird concoction of borrowed ideas. There's even a shot that references the opening of Jaws.

That said, it's all put together with a huge sense of fun, even if nobody told the cast. Everyone concerned keeps an admirably straight face as aliens blast at one another with laser shotguns and huge monsters fight to the death in high school changing rooms.

Poor Timothy Olyphant's given almost nothing to do in a generic mentor role, which is odd, given that he's the film's biggest name. Nevertheless, it's hard not to warm to a movie that dares to have teenage lovers quietly developing photographs as aliens blow stuff up right outside the door, or one that manages to squeeze in a line like "Red Bull's for pussies."

Clearly meant to attract the same audience that flocked to see the Twilight Saga, I Am Number Four could be seen as a cynical attempt to make a quick buck out of a passing phase in American movies, and the similarities to Bella and Edward's vampy saga are obvious: the teenage romance, toned young boys and supernatural battles are all present and correct.

Derivative though it is, there's enough insanity in I Am Number Four to make it more than worth a watch. It's not original and it's not clever, but even the most curmudgeonly viewer would have to admit that it's a fun piece of genre hokum.

Bring on the turkey monsters!

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