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By Jim Rohner · February 21, 2011
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I had never seen a film directed by D.J. Caruso before I saw I Am Number Four. I was sufficiently aware of all his previous titles (except Taking Lives – does anyone even remember that movie?), but there was just nothing that struck me about anything I had seen from or heard about them to convince me that they were worth seeing. But then I started seeing the slick TV spots for I Am Number Four with its kinetic and 'splosiony action scenes punctuated with teasing glimpses of smokin' hot blondes and thought that maybe it would make a handsome stud to pop my Caruso cherry. So now I've seen my first D.J. Caruso movie, and if I Am Number Four can be considered indicative, then there seems to be no reason why I should see any more.
I Am Number Four is called such because John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is the fourth in a series of nine, super-powered, apparently flawlessly beautiful alien youths hiding out on Earth. Number Four – or is it John? – is significant because at the outset of the film, Number Three is killed, and as we were all taught when we were very young, four sequentially follows three. Numbers One – Three were killed by the Mogs – a separate, evil faction of aliens from the same planet as the Numbers with a penchant for looking slightly inhuman while donned in black trench coats (think of the Misters from Dark City, only significantly less foreboding). Why they seek to kill the Numbers is never really explained, but in a film where the gilled antagonists never come close to water, you've gotta believe the screenwriters didn't concern themselves with details.
It's a hard life for John/Four, having to constantly move from place to place and leave no traces of himself behind to ensure that us humans are none the wiser. When a flare up of his abilities forces John/Four to move to Paradise, Ohio, his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), commands him to blend in and not attract any attention. Try and guess how that works out. Soon enough, John/Four gets mixed up with a manic pixie dream girl photographer (Dianna Argon), a nerd who believes his father was abducted by aliens (Callan McAuliffe), an alpha male football player (Jake Abel), and a dog that possesses an uncanny ability of omnipresence. With such a motley crew around him, is it possible for John/Four to maintain a normal life?
Of course not. Soon enough John/Four's getting uncomfortable erections of light spouting from his hands during class while trying to avoid answering text messages of, "who are you??" It's all very awkward and melodramatic as the lives of teenagers often are, but I Am Number Four should be more concerned with blowing stuff up than exploring the OMGs and WTFs of teens. When it focuses on the former, it's pretty thrilling, but when it focuses on the latter, it's a wasteland of uninteresting characters spouting out every cliche in the book that ignore glaring, unanswered questions. For instance, Herni informs John/Four that the Numbers are strongest when united. So why don't he and John/Four dedicate their time to finding the other Numbers instead of fleeing the Mogs? And what's Number Five's excuse for missing all the action?
Normally I'd cry "too many cooks in the kitchen" with the film's 3 credited (and who knows how many uncredited) screenwriters, but with titles like the exceptional Spider-Man 2, the not terrible Shanghai Noon and the perpetually acclaimed "Mad Men" spread across the 3 writers' resumes, I want answers as to why two-thirds of I Am Number Four feels like an ABC Family Channel original movie brought to theaters – "Kyle XY" on the big screen, if you will. I'm not so ignorant as to assume that screenwriters have any sway in who directs their work, but the bland, uninteresting first two acts of the film would've been difficult for any director to make interesting. Still, by leaving his mark only in the truly exciting third act fisticuffs, Caruso doesn't exactly rise above the material.