Sunday, June 3, 2012

Give (Alien) Peace a Chance: I am Number Four

There is a lot of unnecessary hate out there for this film. Then again, teen movies aren't favorites with everyone. The dialogues are usually campy and (st)uttered by inexperienced players. The sexual tension gets old fast. The plot lines (virgin has relations with apple pie; vampire falls in love with uncoordinated tomboy; redheaded sophomore's birthday goes unnoticed; etc.) are far-fetched and sometimes silly. In this regard, D.J. Caruso's I Am Number Four  blends in perfectly, because on some level (and older viewers might do well to remember this) ALL TEEN FILMS ARE RIDICULOUS. So if you're okay with a little bit of ridiculousness, are able to appreciate the nostalgia of teen-dom, and enjoy science fiction, this film is for you. 
First off, don't be fooled by dismissive comparisons to The Twilight Saga; this film is actually nothing like Twilight except for the teenage characters and the sharpness of the enemies' teeth, but that's honestly reaching, a lot. If the film was influenced by anything, it was by the science fiction/thriller aspects of television shows like The Twilight ZoneThe X-Files, and if I want to reach some more, evenLOST or The Matrix. The film opens with an unseen creature chasing a young man (Number Three) through a jungle. The star of the story, Number Four, has unnatural physical powers (legacies) that becomes stronger when his emotions flare. And throughout the film, verbal homages are paid, "You mean those 'truth is out there' freaks?" and "my entire childhood has been an episode of X-files." Even the title fits in on a very basic level among Twilight Zone writers' selections---Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and Charles Beaumont/John Tomerlin's Number Twelve Looks Just Like You.
This film works because of two things: the casting and the effects. The length (only 109 minutes) and the music didn't hurt, either. The entire production was extremely well cast, but topping the list were the two principals, Pettyfer and Agron. They both gave their characters an almost subtle, hesitant charm, choosing eye-rolls and smirks over stuttering or squinting (there were a few neck-clenches, however). The first kiss between them strikes a chord by providing the words every lovesick teenager wants to hear; "All I think about is you." Also well cast was Timothy Olyphant (Go, Deadwood, Justified), who, while a little young for a father figure role, is always a good business decision. His first scene shows him wonderfully shaggy-haired and in beach bum attire, looking very much like a version of LOST'S famed pilot, Frank Lapidus. Speaking of LOST, alum Kevin Durand (who plays the lead Mog) just can't get a break. If playing awful commando Martin Keamy wasn't a plague on his soon-to-be-typecast-as-a-disgusting-villain-for-the-rest-of-his-life house, then I don't know what is. All the sneering, inhaling, and delight in the causing of pain suit him perfectly; Durand is a legitimate fright. 

The story is about Number Four (played by Alex Pettyfer), an alien from the planet Lorien living on Earth with his protector, Henri (played by Timothy Olyphant). Forced to leave their home because of enemy attacks, the two are on the lam from the Mogadorians or Mogs, who are searching for Four and the others like him (the first three have been destroyed already bringing Four's number up on the hit list). Henri tries to convince Four (or John, as he's called in public) to keep a low profile but Sarah (Glee's Dianna Agron), a blossoming young photographer catches his eye and things start to get difficult. Loriens mate for life, you see. Sarah used to date the star quarterback, who is a bully. The bullying happens mostly to a young underclassman who believes his father was carried off by aliens, which turns out to be correct. All this drama causes Four to often lose control of his powers and open a little kick-ass from time to time, allowing the Mogs and another mysterious number to easily track where he's hiding through web postings and Youtube. There come slightly awkward scenes. Explosions. And an extremely stylized ending (where Michael Bay's hand in production becomes evident), but you know something? It all works.
In terms of the effects, everything flowed really well and was impressive. The Mogadorians looked scary, Four (and Six) could do cool tricks, and the Matrix-calibre end battle was well done. Yes, a lot of what happened was far-fetched and at times a little silly, but this picture was never meant to be an exercise in reality. If you ask me, the kids did just fine. Sequels? See you there.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

Man, now this movie sucked. This reminded me of something that should have been made in the 1980s, if that makes any sense. It would have sucked then, as well, and nobody would have seen it, but it would have felt less out-of-place somehow.

Donald said...

I agree. This movie sucked.

Anna said...

loved it. and I loved probably everything that was made in the 80s, knowing it sucked.