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Sunday, September 25, 2011

I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) - Review


I was somehow afraid this would be another "Twilight". Just bare with me. It's based on a young adult novel that involves teens and otherworldy events. It features a romance that involves a discovery of one's secret identity and supernatural powers. It's hip and glossy. I got scared. I was relieved to discover that this sci-fi thriller, produced by Michael Bay and directed by DJ Caruso ("Disturbia", "Eagle Eye") has a little more cinematic common sense.

The hero of this story is John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) a teenager who is actually one of nine children of an alien race called the Loriens, each protected by a guardian, hiding on Earth from the menacing Megadorians, another alien race that seems to want to eliminate all life in the Universe. After number Three is killed, John and his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant) leave their current place of hiding in Florida and move to Paradise, Ohio. They are far from safe, however, as John and Henri will discover. For them and our world, time is running out.

The movie is sci-fi thriller, but a big chunk of the movie deals with John adapting to his life on the run, his need to find a place to fit in and all the usual high school coming-of-age stuff. It involves the requisite romance with a fellow student, Sarah (Dianna Agron) and interactions with the awkward kid, Sam (Callan McAuliffe). This part is dull and conventional, although I will give the filmmakers credit for not trying to squeeze the romance bit for maximum sappiness. In fact at some point it becomes quite marginal. The acting doesn't help matters, as most of it, except for Olyphant and Kevin Durand (as the snarly villain), is as flat as a surfboard.

The movie gains a lot more traction during its second half, when the action kicks in and John becomes aware of his super powers. The visual effects are neat and the fighting is more coherent than you'd expect (especially with Bay producing). Although there's little to really feel enthusiastic about, I remarked that the movie retains a sort of the silly 80s sci-fi B flick charm that kind of warmed up to me. However, I did not appreciate the fact that the movie sidesteps a lot of the geekier details regarding the alien civilization and only reminds us occasionally that it's all about a bigger war that only happens to involve our world. I suppose budget constraints had something to do with that. For example, I don't recall the movie telling us that the medalions the nine wear are actually some sort of talismans preventing the Megadorians from killing them out of order. That seemed like important information, right ? Fans of the novel are bound to be disappointed, but I suppose this is intended for a broader, uninitiated audience.

You could say that this is the same children's sci-fi you've seen time and time again, but that doesn't make it less fun. D.J. Caruso has the feel of the story, but doesn't quite know, or perhaps the script doesn't allow him, to craft a fully engaging adventure. It's a nice enough diversion, though. The series of novels is supposed to contain six volumes, but only the first one has been written. The second book came out in August and a possible sequel has yet to be announced. Not that I'm asking for it.




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