Getting a teen thriller just right is a skill that very few people seem to manage. Director D. J. Caruso, however, just keeps getting things pretty much perfect for his target audience. Disturbia was absolutely superb, Eagle Eye was much sillier but enjoyable enough and I Am Number Four falls between the two. Which makes me more perplexed by the underperformance of this movie at the box office. It didn’t actually flop but it didn’t ever really get those cash tills singing either.
Alex Pettyfer stars as John (the number four of the title), an alien living on Earth and trying to keep a low profile with the help of his carer, Henri (Timothy Olyphant). This is of utmost importance because a race of aliens knows as the Mogadorians want to kill off John and the rest of his kind before, quite possibly, making our planet their new home. Sadly, John’s profile does not stay as low as he and his carer would like and by the time the situation heats up John is interested in a girl (Sarah, played by Dianna Agron) and has a new best friend in the shape of Sam (Callan McAuliffe), a lad who has long believed in life on other planets after the disappearance of his father some years ago. Thankfully, at about the same time, John also discovers his legacies, skills that he can use to fight for his life when the time comes.
Opening with a quick action sequence that is explained a short while later, I Am Number Four then settles down for most of the first hour. We get the standard “new boy” stuff as John settles into a new school yet again and finds out who the local bullies are while also learning his new skills. Information is fed to the audience throughout this hour, background on the characters and reminders of the danger that is surely coming for them (otherwise it’s not going to be a very exciting movie, right?).
It’s still entertaining enough and never drags but, thankfully, the second half of the movie heads towards a pretty impressive, non-stop action sequence for the last half hour or so that rewards those who have been waiting patiently for the promised thrills and spills. Mixing computer effects with practical stuntwork and making sure everything is as polished and shiny as can be, Caruso shows that he is more than capable of putting together a fun, coherent battle onscreen (though, to be fair, he had already shown that in the past).
The cast are all very good. Pettyfer is great in the lead role, believable despite the unbelievable concept and convincingly frustrated and headstrong. Timothy Olyphant is one of those actors I always just want to say “can do no wrong” and here he does no wrong. Callan McAuliffe is pretty good in his sidekick role and Kevin Durand is enjoyably menacing (and heavily made up) as the Mogadorian Commander. Teresa Palmer does well with some disappointingly short time onscreen and Jake Abel is a decent irritant (Mark, the head of his bullying clique) but I must say that Dianna Agron just hasn’t got the screen presence or charm to convince as Sarah, the girl who John falls in love with despite everything else going on in his life.
The script by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Marti Noxon (based on a book by two writers using the wonderful pseudonym, Pittacus Lore) perhaps fails to give enough background and spends too much time looking forward towards the prospective sequel opportunities but it dripfeeds enough clues and snippets of information to keep viewers in the loop before throwing in the fun action moments.
It’s another solid outing from Caruso but maybe my liking it just proves why it didn’t do as well as expected. Perhaps it just wasn’t cool enough for the younger audience that it was aimed at. Oh well, it’s certainly not the first time that I’ve had a differing opinion from the majority.
DIRECTOR: D.J. CARUSO
STARS: ALEX PETTYFER, TIMOTHY OLYPHANT, TERESA PALMER, DIANNA AGRON, CALLAN MCAULIFFE, KEVIN DURAND
RUNTIME: 109 MINS APPROX