The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I Am Number Four
Alex Pettyfer is grateful that he's not Number Two.

Sometimes I feel like I haven't seen a movie, even when I've just seen a movie. Certain films wash over me, even as I'm sitting in my seat looking at the screen. They're like dinners of nothing but empty calories; I'm hungry again as soon as I'm done eating. When these experiences come along, it's not necessarily because the movies are bad, but because they're bland. A good example is I Am Number Four. I watched it, and while doing so was painless, I was never fully invested. When the end credits rolled, I felt nothing: no joy over having been entertained, no resentment over having not been entertained. Bland movies are often done by rote, and subsequently the audience watches them on rote. You walk in, sit for two hours, then get up and leave. That's really all there is to it.

Alex Pettyfer plays "John Smith," an extra-terrestrial hiding out on Earth to avoid the enemy race that's trying to extinguish his people. He moves from town to town with his protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant). When we first meet them, they have just taken up residence in a small Ohio town. John is supposed to blend in and not call attention to himself, but that's hard to do in high school. He quickly begins a relationship with a female classmate, Sarah ("Glee" star Dianna Agron), while also pissing off the school bullies by sticking up for class dork Sam (Callan McAuliffe). Of course, his enemies find him in this tiny town (courtesy of YouTube videos!) and come looking for him. Also tracking him is a mystery girl (Teresa Palmer), whose specific identity I best not disclose here. Thankfully for him, John develops magical powers that allow him to fight the good fight.

I Am Number Four could just as easily have been called Frankenmovie. It takes bits and pieces from a lot of other films and simply assembles them in a different order. I have not read the Pittacus Lore novel on which it is based; perhaps some of the problem lies there, perhaps not. Regardless, we've seen movies about tormented high schoolers with supernatural powers before. We've seen movies about "chosen ones" protecting their race from evil adversaries before. And stories about high school girls who fall in love with otherworldly beings? Um, yeah…that rings a bell.

Where the picture goes wrong is in its setup. The details about John's species are only barely hinted at in a brief voiceover; we never really learn why the other aliens want to extinguish his people. All we get is some nonsense about age-old rivalries. Without knowing the source of the conflict or the reason for its ongoing perpetration, it is very difficult to care about whether John survives. I mean, who knows - his people may have been colossal A-holes and the other species were righteous folk. Just because he's a good-looking athletic type and his predators have bald heads, gnarly teeth, and fish gills on their faces doesn't necessarily mean he's good and they're bad, right? Okay, I'm being snarky. The point is that this conflict is supposed to be the machine that drives the plot, yet we only ever glimpse it at face value. In order to have a rooting interest, we must know the whys of it. Imagine a world in which you don't understand why Harry Potter needs to vanquish Voldemort. The series wouldn't work. I Am Number Four is just like that.

The really odd thing is that the film gets amusingly absurd in its final half hour. After taking itself pretty seriously for well over the better part of 70 minutes, it abruptly starts to lighten up. The battle royale naturally takes place at the high school, with aliens brawling in the hallways and locker rooms, and even on the football field. (Symbolism!) There are some sharp lines of dialogue, including Palmer's quip about Red Bull, which is destined to be among the year's most memorable. There's also an insanely loopy plot twist involving a puppy that doesn't go quite as far as I thought it would but still goes pretty far nonetheless.

I'd like to see a longer director's cut of I Am Number Four on DVD. Quite possibly, much of the expository material was cut out to give it the kind of fast pace that appeals to ticket-buying teens. The cast is decent and, as I said, there are some appealingly goofy bits scattered throughout. With increased development of the backstory, this could be a more fulfilling and less disposable sci-fi tale than it ultimately is.

( out of four)

I Am Number Four is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.