Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"I Am Number Four" (2011)

Starring Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron and Timothy Olyphant
Written by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon
Directed by DJ Caruso
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 109 Minutes

Number Four (Alex Pettyfer) is an alien from the planet Lorien.  Though he looks human, he is not.  But the planet Earth is the only home he's ever known.  He moves around, staying under the radar, posing as the son of his protector, Henri (Timothy Olyphant) a warrior charged with his safety.  They live under the constant threat of death at the hands of the Mogadorians, vicious aliens bent on conquering Earth and destroying the last of the Loriens.

Going under the suitably stupid alias John Smith, our young hero enrolls in high school in the small town of Paradise, Ohio, where Henri claims he has "business" to take care of.  At school, John befriends a bullied loner named Sam (Callan McAuliffe) and begins to fall for the lovely Sarah (Dianna Agron).  But Henri warns him that he can't get too close to people, that they must keep a low profile in order to stay safe.  At the same time, John is discovering that he is developing incredible powers called "legacies" that he's inherited from his parents.

Of course, falling for a girl at school is never a simple matter.  Sarah's ex, the quarterback of the school football team, Mark (Jake Abel) doesn't take well to John moving in on his turf.  To make matters worse, Mark's father happens to be the town sheriff, which makes Henri extremely nervous.  Even worse than that, Sam's father, who disappeared years earlier, knew about the Loriens and may have been abducted by the Mogadorians and their vicious Commander (Kevin Durand).

Oh, and someone else (Teresa Palmer) is also looking for John.  But who is she?  And what is she after?

This is the second film I've watched in the last week that I think would be better suited as a TV series than a movie.  "I Am Number Four" is ultimately a better film than "Abduction," but at the end of the day, I could give or take either one.

The cast is mostly so-so.  Pettyfer doesn't show a lot of range, he seems to constantly be in "teen angst mode." He lightens up occasionally, and even seems to enjoy the brief moments where he gets to experiment with his powers, but otherwise he lacks real presence or charisma.  Again, he'd probably do well enough on a "Number Four" TV series, if it were on the CW or something, but a movie generally calls for something more since it's running time is much more compressed than a series.

Agron is a lovely young woman, and she has some nice scenes that show potential.  When her character invites John over for dinner, she shows good chemistry with the other actors playing her family, and also some real depth when she talks about her love of photography.  During the film's climax, she doesn't get much to do besides be the damsel in distress, which is unfortunate.

Timothy Olyphant's role is sadly brief, and he spends too much time continuously warning John over and over not to make a scene when he goes out in public.  But, at the same time, he seems to be having fun and he gets to participate in one of the film's cool fight sequences.  Likewise, Kevin Durand - still recognizable under his alien makeup and modified voice - seems to be having a blast as the alien villain.    Actors having fun always seems to elevate the material, and that's no different here.

The script spends a lot of time on John's angst and his growing infatuation with Sarah.  Director Caruso slathers these scenes in pop music, giving the film even more of a CW feel.  But when it comes down to the brass tacks, Caruso gives the film the big-budget action oomph that it needs.  The film's climax features some cool fights and nifty special effects work, though the limited budget rears its head when it comes to the CGI alien creatures tearing up the high school.

But as fun as these bits are, they can't really elevate the film from feeling like it belongs on the small screen.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing, either; I'd probably watch this series - though I probably wouldn't declare it the greatest thing ever.  That feeling probably comes from the fact that the listed writers are mostly known for their work in this kind of genre but for episodic TV.  Gough and Millar created the CW's long-running (but mostly crappy) "Smallville" while Noxon was a writer and producer on the very not crappy "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" so it's not very surprising that this film shares a lot of the feel of those shows.

There are worse ways to kill a couple of hours than "I Am Number Four," and you might even find yourself interested enough to watch a sequel if it ever rolls around.