Saturday, February 19, 2011

Teenagers from Outer Space: I AM NUMBER FOUR

D.J. Caruso is a capable director who has helmed several middle-of-the-road efforts, none better than his 2007 Disturbia, an enjoyable suburban Hitchcock riff. He returns to suburbia for I Am Number Four, easily one of the worst of his films. It’s a dull, rote sci-fi thriller for the Twilight crowd. (Indeed, it’s based off of a teen novel by James Frey and Jobie Hughes). Here’s a cheap film that feels cobbled together entirely out of generic parts that have been shipped unaltered from the cliché factory.

It features a charisma-free performance from bland blond Alex Pettyfer as a teenage alien who was one of nine children sent from his planet to escape genocide at the hands of some things called the Mogadorians. He and the others were to be raised separately on Earth to become warrior defenders of all that is good (or something like that). His older alien protector (the usually reliably entertaining Timothy Olyphant) keeps him moving around so that humans don’t get suspicious. There’s not much on the surface to suggest that suspicion could be a big concern. Are they worried about the fact that they look exactly like normal humans?

When the movie starts, Pettyfer is flipping around on a jet ski and having a great time with the human teens until a weird symbol starts to glow underneath the skin of his leg. That’s the sign that another of his alien brethren has been killed. You see, these Mogadorians have come to earth and have apparently spent around sixteen years or so hunting down these other aliens, the last of the kind. For some never explained reason, these refugees can only be killed in a certain order. How is this order decided? Who knows? They’ve just killed Number Three. Any guess as to the identity of Number Four? Hint: check the title.

Anyways, these Mogadorians, who look like Voldemort with gills and are almost exclusively shown under the cover of darkness, are on the hunt for our protagonists, as is a mysterious blonde (Teresa Palmer) who is on her own separate search. On the run, Pettyfer and Olyphant (what a couple of surnames!) end up crashing in Paradise, Ohio where, of course, the best way to blend in is to send the alien teen to high school. There he meets cartoonish archetypes that have marched straight out of the nearest teen comedy including the inevitable romantic alluring artistic girl (Dianna Agron), the nerdy sidekick kid (Callan McAuliffe), and the antagonistic bullying jock (Jake Abel). For some reason or another, they’ll all inevitably be drawn into the looming intergalactic conflict that will play out on a depressingly small scale.

This is a movie that is never more successful than in its moments of empty-headed spectacle, but that’s mostly because it means the characters have a chance to remain silent while the plot slips even further into autopilot. It is yet another superpower metaphor in the coming-of-age story. It’s yet another low-key genre effort that’s so sleepily dull that it only makes all the more obvious its status as mere pretty product. It’s yet another achingly predictable plot that descends into a conclusion that consists of a shootout, a few explosions and the threat of a sequel.

I was so incredibly bored watching this all play out in front of me that little could be done to rouse my interest. I could not have cared less about the Mogadorians and the special numbers, the magic rocks, the stupid symbols and the plodding teen romance, though I suppose coherent exposition would have made it all go down a bit smoother. Actually, that’s probably not true. This is a movie so impersonally assembled out of prefabricated parts that little could be done to spark it to life without a complete and total overhaul featuring a bit more imagination and energy.

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