I missed I Am Number Four (directed by D.J. Caruso) when it was in the theatres earlier this year and, at the time, I was merely mildly bothered. I could get by without seeing another film about an unhappy teenager with secret powers who falls in love with the school’s cheerleader while making the school bullies look dim and making the school nerds look cool. It sounded to me a little like a mix of Twilight and Jumper (Twiper?) – thankfully not sparkly but still not necessarily pleasant. I was rather intrigued, then, when the film was released on DVD and blu ray, that I began to hear some dissenting murmurs. Could it be that I Am Number Four was not as bad as its theatrical release would have had me believe?
There is no denying that there are some very familiar elements to I Am Number Four. Nevertheless, the premise is catchy. Nine infants, each accompanied by a guardian, are hidden away on earth, far from their own planet, which has been taken over by the Mogadorians. Each of these youngsters grows into their inhuman powers, which include telekinetic abilities, athletic prowess and resistance to fire. The intention was that they would return to their own planet when the time was right to save it. Instead, the Mogadorians have destroyed their homeland and have followed the teenagers to earth, to kill them one by one, in their order of being. As the film opens, Number Three comes a cropper, making it imperative for Number Four, aka John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), to flee deeper into hiding.
Meanwhile, John is having to cope with growing up too fast, counterbalancing needing to survive and honing his skills, with establishing friendships and relationships and having some kind of normality on a planet he now calls home. Always reminding him that he must leave no trace to track in the world is his ‘dad’ or guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant). And then there’s the ‘dog’…
Despite the familiar tale, the success of I Am Number Four is largely due to Alex Pettyfer, who plays the role of John entirely straight and with a great deal of honesty. When he falls for Sarah (Dianna Agron), it feels less like a plot convention than an earnest desire for a young, troubled man to achieve a connection. Likewise, there is a nerd, Sam (Callan McAuliffe) – believing in aliens in this community is actually rather sensible – but he has his own reasons for wanting to stand firm. The allusions to The X Files, the knowing self-awareness of these teenagers, was surprisingly poignant.
Meanwhile, we have the rather nasty Mogadorians – humanoids with pointy teeth and gills and ‘dogs’ of their own – and Number Six (Teresa Palmer), who has decided to take matters into her own hands. Clearly, we’re in for quite a battle. And when it comes, it’s a lot of fun.
I Am Number Four looks smart, it has a soundtrack that I wasn’t expecting, including songs from Adele, Kings of Leon and Beck, and the special effects aren’t too obtrusive. Although this was not the blockbuster it could have been, it was most certainly more agreeable and enjoyable to watch than Twilight or Jumper. Well worth the rent.