‘I Am Number Four’ is woefully typical

By Drew Hunt

As far as movies go, the middle of February isn’t the most vibrant time of the year. The summer blockbusters are still a few months away, while the award contenders of the fall have long come and gone. But not every film is a miss—the delightful “Cedar Rapids” is currently in theaters. Still, for every decent option there’s at least a dozen shoddy ones.

Enter “I Am Number Four,” an earnest yet arduous sci-fi adventure film adapted from a popular book series of the same name. British actor Alex Pettyfer stars as John Smith, one of nine alien life forms born on the planet Lorien who are sent to Earth after their home is destroyed by the Mogadorians, an evil race hell-bent on taking over the entire universe. The nine infants possess amazing supernatural abilities and are the only ones capable of defeating the Mogadorians, who are hunting them down one by one.

Though the film does have a number of somewhat admirable qualities, “I Am Number Four” remains bland and uninventive studio fare. Heavy on plot and lacking in nuance, it’s another prime example of the kind of mindless drudgery mainstream moviegoers seem to revel in.

Defenders of the film will likely say it isn’t trying to be anything more than mindless drudgery: “It’s just entertainment, dude. What’s so wrong with that?”

For starters, that’s a lazy argument. But on top of that, “I Am Number Four” is wholeheartedly aware of what it is: an attempt by a major film studio to cash in on a popular book series by assuming that the millions of people who bought the book will gladly pay $14 to go see an adaptation they’ll most likely hate. It’s a formula that’s been working for the last 12 years. Sci-fi nerds are the single-most predictable demographic in the history of consumerism, and they love having new material to complain about on Internet message boards.

What’s interesting, however, is the film’s likely unintentional subtext involving the sexual awakening of teenagers. While on Earth, John is under the protection of Henri—played by Timothy Olyphant—an adult-aged alien from Lorien who is constantly reminding him to keep a low profile, lest the evil Mogadorians track them down. But as the film opens, we see John doing the exact opposite: while a Kings of Leon track plays in the background, John and his bros are riding on some super sweet jet skis at a beach party while dozens of Hollister models watch them. John takes the opportunity to perform a totally awesome back flip on his jet ski to impress some of the ladies. Sure enough, one particularly impressed young woman invites him to do a little night swimming, but as soon as things get steamy, John’s powers manifest against his will and he totally kills the mood.

Though the actor who plays him is clearly seven or eight years older, John is a 16-year-old kid—right at the age when sexual desires are at their most keenly erratic. His powers as an extraterrestrial superhero are not yet under his control, causing him to have sporadic episodes of uninhibited paranormal activity. These outbursts are analogous to his forays with the opposite sex, depicted not only in the opening scene, but also his developing relationship with a new girl, Sarah—played by “Glee” star Dianna Agron.

There’s fertile but unexplored ground in the narrative to examine the inelegance of teenage sex. Never mind what MTV and “The OC” lead you to believe—it’s not the most glamorous thing in the world. But instead of demystification, “I Am Number Four” chooses the sentimental route by having Sarah act as the catalyst for which John is able to focus his powers. Thanks to the couple’s flourishing love, he is now able to hone his abilities and kill the bad guys and save the world and do all that other cool stuff—thematically predictable, easily digestible and altogether uninteresting. Par for the course.

But for all its humdrumness, “I Am Number Four” does have its moments of pleasant escapism. It’s a very polished film, fitted with impressive visuals and occasional spurts of humor. Though far from great, it’s not likely to be the most incompetently made film to be released this year, thanks in large part to its genuinely thrilling action scenes. Plus it’s got a hot chick walking away from a totally sweet explosion in slow motion. And who doesn’t love that?