I was a teenage alien – I Am Number Four review

I Am Number Four – Starring Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron and Timothy Olyphant. Directed by D.J. Caruso. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

I Am Number Four is either an incredibly courageous movie, or a painfully underwhelming one. And it is definitely not the former. The only interesting thing about it is the way in which it parallels teen alienation with literal extra-terrestrial alienation; a concept that is so contrived the film’s title practically indicates how many movies just like it have come before. There are plenty of pretty special effects, and some of the cast are game, but D.J. Caruso’s adaptation of the young adult novel of the same name has one fatal flaw: it doesn’t get teenagers. Contemporaries such as Glee and The Twilight Saga may paint in broad – occasionally offensive – strokes, but they get the essential elements of teenagerdom right: irrational sexual fixations; perspective-free angst; the desolate pain of isolation; the ‘aww-shucks’ charm of having absolutely no foresight. I Am Number Four sticks a bunch of Burberry models in a high school, has them pout and then calls it social commentary. (Side note: I Am Number Four is still better than the Twilight pictures; even if those flicks get the teen obsession with sex right, they get a whole lot more wrong. But we’ll save that for the Breaking Dawn review…)

Based on the book by Pittacus Lore (the alias of authors James Frey and Jobie Hughes), I Am Number Four stars the wildly uncharismatic Alex Pettyfer as teen outcast/expat alien John Smith. His casting seems like some sort of Michael Haneke-esque, fourth-wall breaking cinematic experiment, in which our expectations of a likable, or even bearable, lead actor are shattered. It’s because of his casting that I suggested the film might be “courageous”. When we first meet him, he is doing flips on his jet-ski with a bunch of like-bodied idiot hunks in Florida, as if he is the villain in a Savage Steve Holland movie. Following this awkward intro, we are asked to sympathise with him and his plight. Seriously, that is bold.

His plight is as follows: the 15-year-old John is one of nine surviving teenagers from the planet Lorien, the occupants of which were decimated by the evil Mogadorians. John/Number Four is armed with special powers (“legacies”), but not entirely sure how to use them, so his guardian Henri (a fun but underutilised Timothy Olyphant) is charged with preparing him for battle against his hunters and protecting Earth from Lorien’s fate. In the meantime, they hide out in the not-so-aptly named Paradise, Ohio, where John attends school, raises the ire of the local bully (Jake Abel), befriends the local sci-fi dweeb (Callan McAuliffe) and falls for the insanely-beautiful-but-actually-she’s-kinda-deep-local-photographer (Dianna Agron).

Agron, who plays the troubled cheerleader in Glee, is used to bringing extra dimensions to characters that have not been written any. She’s the best thing about that TV show, and the best thing about I Am Number Four. Charming, sweet, plucky, smart; she also seems like a small-town Ohio native and not a Los Angelean slumming it in Nowhere, U.S.A. But she is the only actor able to bring the truth to the film’s overwhelming falsity. This is a movie whose depiction of high school life requires a bigger leap in logic than any of its sci-fi action. The only honest moment comes late in the piece, when a bunch of teenagers at a party – running to see some alien voodoo magic, or something – desperately try to hold their beer cups in front of them so they don’t spill the contents. It’s a two-second shot, but it was the one moment to resonate with me. This is how teenagers would act, even in the face of an impending apocalypse. And it’s certainly not a good sign when the extras are showing off greater character depth than the star. Caruso will have to be content with the fact that his latest film is better than Eagle Eye.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

I Am Number Four arrives in cinemas February 24, 2011.

2 Responses to “I was a teenage alien – I Am Number Four review”

  1. >I can just see the quote on the cover of the DVD: "Better than Eagle Eye – Simon Miraudo".

  2. >From your lips to God's ears… 😉

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