Saturday, February 26, 2011
I Am Number Four [Movie Review]
I Am Number Four the movie is based on a 2010 genre debut of the same name, nominally written by "Pittacus Lore" and implicated in the whole James Frey debacle of recent history, though I do believe that it predates the remarked upon incident. Perhaps, if you read that book, the events here make sense, but the movie itself is nonsensical. I Am Number Four is clichéd, but the real insult is that it's so rushed and slapdash that it can't even manage to execute its clichés. This is a mess from start to finish, generic and confusing, riddled with plot holes and thoroughly forgettable.
Let's start with the back story. The planet Lorien was destroyed by the evil Mogadorians, and the nine remaining Loriens have fled to Earth (because). The Loriens are exactly like people, only they have weird growths on their legs. Each of them is numbered, one through nine. Each of them is guarded by a warrior from their home world, which might make you think that there are really eighteen Loriens, but…there aren't. Because. Those warrior guardians are armed with knives, because guns are for pussies, and none of the nine know any of the others. The Mogadorians – who look just like people, only with tattoos on their heads, gills (though they're not aquatic), and snake teeth – are hunting down the nine in numerical order (because), and the nine are the only ones who can stop the Magodorians (because). The Magodorians, by the way, are, we are explicitly told, not there to "colonize" new worlds but merely to "decimate" them. Oh. Sounds like a worthy goal.
The overarching story, like the individual scenes, is set up purely for effect. If the Magodorians just want the end of the human race, there doesn't seem to be much stopping them from just bombarding us and the Loriens from orbit, but, no, they're going to come down and fight their knife-wielding foes with ineffective fisher price laser guns. This philosophy is reflected in their every encounter. In the opening, we see Number Three die when Magodorians surround his wooden shack in the woods. Instead of, say, burning it down around him while he sleeps, they decide to knock on his door, go hide behind some trees, and then go on a merry chase through the woods to hunt him down. Sensible.
Alright, maybe I'm not being fair to I Am Number Four. A passion for spectacle's not exactly a penchant for pedophilia, and so what if the back story isn't that well considered. It's perfectly possible to have a good science fiction film that focuses on the characters...
In case you couldn't tell, that last paragraph was a set up for me mercilessly bashing the characters and plot of the picture. I Am Number Four ruins whatever promise it might have had (if its back story had, hypothetically, given it any) by jerking the plot this way and that to ram in ever illogical cliché of the last few years that it can. The characters here are archetypes, often archetypes taken to ludicrous levels, and the movie makes no attempt to elaborate on them in any way shape or form, trusting to the audience's familiarity with the concepts to provide all the necessary emotion and soul. Frankly, almost every bit of character interaction makes the viewer feel like they've missed half an hour of film in which any of this was set up.
Number Four – alias John Smith (clever…) – is determined to go to school, even though his protector Henri thinks this is a bad idea. Seriously, the alien wants to go to high school. In case you were thinking that I Am Number Four's high school would differentiate itself, the movie swiftly disabuses you of that notion. Moments after walking in, our character meets: A. the quirky love interest; B. the bullies, complete with obligatory prior relationship to love interest, shoving people into lockers, and police chief fathers; and C. the nerdy but smart kid who the bullies pick on.
Let's look into our quirky love interest first. She's defined by liking photography. These are the scenes in which she and John interact: she guides John to his locker; he sees her during recess; he meets up with her in town and they have dinner; they meet up again and discuss how they can think of nothing but each other and could never contemplate separating. It's mind blowing. It's like the movie knows how obvious the romance is, so it doesn't even bother trying to set it up. When John predictably tells Henri that he's not moving again because he loves Sarah, it took me a few seconds to realize that he wasn't being sarcastic the whole thing was so by the numbers.
Tying into the Quirky Love Interest is I Am Number Four's treatment of technology. This is a movie set in the 21st century, and iphone product placements won't let you forget that. And yet this is the 21st century as portrayed by someone with a very, very vague grasp of technology. The tone is set when Quirky Love Interest is berated for posting pictures of people in school online without the subject's express permission. Sorry, Mr. Stock Principle, but if that was illegal most of facebook would be felons about now. More glaring by far is the amount of attention that I Am Number Four thinks people pay to random high school web sites. John's picture being on Quirky Love Interest's site is a massive security breach, but the true horror comes when there's a video of him reacting to Number Three's death up on some random conspiracy theorist's site. Within a day, the bad guys have found the video and picked up on his location. But then again, maybe I shouldn't be expecting technological sophistication from a movie in which Henri takes John's picture, searches the internet for matches using that picture, and then deletes all those matches at the touch of a button.
But technology's not important in a Science Fiction movie. What's important is a good group of bullies. These guys are a crude parody of overdone movie bullies everywhere, right down to throwing a football at the nerdy kid's head (in keeping with the rest of its style, I Am Number Four differentiates that scene from the norm by making it even more over the top). But that's nothing to what's to come. Just before John Smith and his Quirky Love Interest declare their eternal love, they're at a carnival. Unbeknownst to them, the bullies spy on them the entire time with night vision goggles – then the bullies leap out of the shrubbery and attack en masse. Unsurprisingly, John beats them up, but this is one of those moments where a villain's plan is so colossally bizarre that it's almost better for them that it got foiled. Was a group of high school kids seriously using military hardware to carry out an assault followed by a kidnapping? What?
Finally there's the smart kid. First off, the kid's generic, but I doubt that will come as much of a surprise by now. More bemusing is the fact that the writers of the film evidently confused science geek with science fiction geek. Now, mind you, I like Science Fiction. I've even got this whole blog here to prove it. But it's not science, and it alone is not an indicator of intelligence. Sam is not good in school, and he shows no hints of intelligence. He just believes in UFOs. Fabulous, someone give this kid a Nobel Prize.
But enough about the characters. They're all as set up as they're going to get. Let's get to the plot. The movie, determined to work in every overdone idea possible, then shows us John struggling to control his newfound powers. In a better movie, I might call this an overused metaphor of strange abilities and adolescence, but we don't even reach that point here; one scene of jumping around and our boy John is a master. Whoop de doo.
Now, I won't spoil the story, but John and company are overpowered enough to turn the Mogadorians into standard action movie fodder, and all further danger comes from them conspicuously forgetting about their powers. Various events make no sense, various characters act completely out of character, the awful combination of school drama and alien invasion is unsubtly brought to a climax with the final battle taking place in the school, there's one bizarrely horrific scene, etc. The important thing is that the movie reaches an ending that promises a sequel and answers none of its own questions, and, more importantly, that the audience can now politely get up, leave the theater, and then go do something worthwhile with their time (like, say, write a scathing review).
So was the movie completely worthless? No, there's one scene where the genocidal aliens make faces at kids in a car and freak them out. That was pretty funny, and I'm sure it'll be on youtube before too long. Besides that, yeah, it's a total waste of time.
I went into I Am Number Four knowing nothing about it but that it had something to do with the lovable Mr. Frey. I came out with my non-expectations thoroughly shattered. This movie is cliché, shallow, stuffed with poor characterization and plotting, and bleeding from a dozen dozen holes. Avoid.