'I Am Number 4' Review: Good Actors Unable to Overcome Weak Story
Nine alien adolescents are being hunted by aliens, one by one, in the recently-released thriller “I Am Number 4.” The aliens hunting the teens, who are referred to as numbers, are called Mogadorians and they must kill them in chronological order. After the first three are murdered, "Number 4" must hide out to protect himself. Alex Pettyfer plays the lead character in this solid but unspectacular story about an alien teen who has to contend with aliens trying to kill him and high school bullies trying to embarrass him.
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As the story begins, John (Pettyfer) is posing as a typical teenager. However, when a bruise starts glowing on his body, he is forced to move away from his friends to escape their questions. John is accompanied by his “protector” Henri (Timothy Olyphant), whose main objective is to keep John safe. The duo eventually moves to a small town in Ohio, where John starts attending the local school.
The story continues as a typical high school drama. At school, John meets Sam (Callan McAuliffe), an amiable teen who is being bullied by the school's resident jocks. John inevitably befriends Sam and starts developing feelings for a pretty classmate named Sarah (Dianna Agron). Unsurprisingly, one of the bullies who enjoys taunting Sam also has feelings for Sarah. The Mogadorians eventually arrive in town and John is forced to confront them.
Number 4's protector tries to protect John from the aliens but one only wishes that Henri could have protected John from some of the lame aspects of this story.
The high school scenes are particularly disappointing. Instead of putting these characters in interesting situations, the writers complacently force the main characters into stereotypical roles. The school bully, the loner who needs a friend and the pretty girl who has a history with the local bully are all cliched archetypes found in numerous high school stories. That’s not to say that the characters don’t have interesting qualities. Sam, for one, is a conspiracy theorist who is trying to find his missing father. He's more interesting to watch than the typical bullied teen but I wish the writes would have used more creativity in introducing these characters.
The same goes for the boring villains who are hunting down the nine adolescents. Villains in stories like this should have personality. They can be cruel or funny or entertaining. These villains are none of the above. The Mogadorians even have a boring name. It's difficult to feel fear when your enemy is a ... Mogadorian? Couldn't the writers have come up with something better to call them?
That’s not to say that "I Am Number 4" is fatally flawed. Even though some of the high school scenes are bland, the four characters (Sam, John, Sarah, and "Number 6", who is also being hunted) are interesting and fun to watch. We may have seen stereotypes like these students before but the four main actors make their characters likable. McAuliffe, who starred in last year's under-appreciated "Flipped," does particularly well as the bullied teen who believes in alien abduction.
"I Am Number 4" has numerous flaws including lame villains and a bland high school subplot. However, the story excels when it focuses on the four main characters. If they make a sequel to this film, it will be intriguing to see how the characters develop. At that point, the characters should be out of high school and the Mogadorians should have had the good sense to come up with a scarier moniker.